Obama Challenges Critics On Health Care

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President Obama urged Congress again today to pass health care legislation by the end of the year. Critics have called the plan too costly and the chairman of the Republican Party called the president's plan "socialism."


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. I'm filling in while Michele Norris is on book leave.

President Obama is stepping up his public involvement in the health care overhaul, now that that's hitting some roadblocks. Congress is struggling to put together legislation and a new Washington Post-ABC poll says it won't get any easier. The poll shows public approval of the president's handling of health care slipping. It's below 50 percent for the first time.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson has our story.

MARA LIASSON: Today, during an appearance at Washington, D.C.'s Children's Hospital, the president repeated the message he's been delivering almost daily.

President BARACK OBAMA: We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care. Not this time, not now.

LIASSON: The fight is getting personal. Today, the president referred to remarks by Republican Senator Jim DeMint, who said this in a conference call to conservative activists.

Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

Pres. OBAMA: It will break him. Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy.

LIASSON: The White House used DeMint's comments to make its case that giving Congress more time, as some conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have requested, would play right into the hands of the president's opponents. David Axelrod is the president's chief political advisor.

Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Senior Adviser, White House): Well, I think it's important to get as much done as we can before August. The reason being what Senator DeMint so candidly acknowledged, which is there are those who oppose any kind of health insurance reform, and they would like to string this out to give themselves the best possible chance to kill it.

LIASSON: But Mr. Obama's August deadline is in jeopardy. And that's raising questions about the president's legislative strategy. The White House decided to lay out broad principles on health reform, but leave the details to Congress. Health care policy expert Bob Blendon says the administration may have over learned the lessons of the past.

Professor BOB BLENDON (Health Policy and Political Analysis, Harvard University): The president has a playbook that has been written based on people's belief of why the Clinton plan failed. And he's carried it to the extreme, which is let the Congress work it out, agree that you'll take what the Congress can agree on and embrace it as your plan within very general guidelines.

LIASSON: But so far, the only plans Congress has produced have not met the president's general guidelines for a health care overhaul that's both deficit neutral and that brings down the rate of health care inflation. Many members of Congress say it's time for the president to step in more forcefully and Blendon agrees.

Prof. BLENDON: They want the president to take some really leading positions and including controversial ones. That is, for many people who are going to be asked to raise taxes or change the way care is paid for, you don't want to be out there alone, they would be more secure if he took a stand and they followed it.

LIASSON: David Axelrod says that with each passing day, Mr. Obama is getting more involved in the details.

Mr. AXELROD: Well, I think it was always the case that we would let Congress work through their proposals, and at the appropriate time, the president would weigh in on some of the lingering issues, and we've reach that point. And he's plainly, deeply involved. And he'll be meeting with members of Congress all week to move this process along.

LIASSON: The president is starting to talk about changes he wants in the legislation. Yesterday on Fox News, his budget director Peter Orszag said the House bill would be better if it included an independent panel that would set Medicare reimbursement rates, a power Congress currently keeps for itself.

Mr. PETER ORSZAG (White House Budget Director): I think the single most important thing is this proposal that we have for an independent commission to help bring down cost over the long term.

LIASSON: The public will hear more, a lot more from President Obama about health care this week. He's doing another round of television interviews. He'll travel to Ohio for a town hall meeting, and on Wednesday night he'll hold a prime time press conference at the White House.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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