Obama To Add Va., N.C. To Health Care Tour
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
If the presidential election had turned out differently, Sarah Palin would be inside the Beltway right now. Instead, a Democratic administration is pushing Congress to approve its agenda.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The way that President Obama pushes is prompting some second guessing. NPR's Cokie Roberts is watching the drive to change health care. She joins us for some analysis, as she does nearly every Monday morning. Hi, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, guys. How are you doing?
INSKEEP: Doing great. Doing great. Now, what is wrong, if anything, with throwing out a big idea like health care changes and then letting Congress argue over the details?
ROBERTS: I don't think there's anything wrong with it, and I think that there was a lot of criticism in the Clinton years that they crafted a bill at the White House and then presented to Congress. And obviously, Obama has learned from that and is doing it differently. But there's some Democrats who are saying, look, we need him to draw some lines in the sand. We can't come to consensus without him taking some sort of leadership. And the president's been very hesitant to do that because he knows there are lots of different ideas floating around on the Hill, and he has said a few things that he doesn't want. He said he doesn't want to tax employee benefits, although over the weekend, there was lots of talk about taxing what is called Cadillac plans - great, big insurance plans that some executives have.
INSKEEP: And also, we should mention some union members have negotiated good plans for themselves. That's one of the reasons this becomes politically sensitive.
ROBERTS: That's true. Indeed.
WERTHEIMER: Cokie, also over the weekend, there was a promise from the House speaker that she will get a bill passed. Any notion about when?
ROBERTS: Well, there are meetings today - again, among Democrats in the House of Representatives. But many House members don't want to vote on this health care bill without knowing what the Senate is doing. As you well know, Linda, they get so tired of walking the plank on politically dicey legislation and then seeing it die on the Senate. And some of them are afraid they've already done that on the energy bill. Now, I think health care's a little different because the president, his commitment to getting it is so strong that I think a bill will emerge.
WERTHEIMER: Well, what about that strong commitment? Has President Obama staked too much on this issue, which has always been so difficult for the Congress?
ROBERTS: Well, I think the only way to get it done is for him to have a huge push behind it and to make it something of a personal political legacy for him. Hillary Clinton herself said yesterday that there are big differences between her health care time and this time. Here she is on NBC's "Meet the Press."
(Soundbite of TV show, "Meet the Press")
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Back in '93, we had to keep making the case over and over again. Well, now we know costs will continue to rise. For everybody who has insurance, there is no safe haven. Their costs will go up. We lose insurance for 14,000 people a day. We know that our system, left unchecked, is going to bankrupt not just families and businesses, but our country.
ROBERTS: And that - there it is. The costs are just enormous, and nobody is really able to handle them. States are having a terrible time, as well as businesses and individuals. So there is a sense that something does have to happen. But it's the cost that's making it so hard. And there are philosophical differences among Democrats. Well - but I do think Democrats of every stripe do want the president to succeed, because that works for them. But you saw last week tremendous rancor, Chairman Henry Waxman of the Health Committee suggesting that maybe that he'll just around his own committee and take a bill directly to the floor because he was so frustrated with the moderate Democrats on his own committee.
And, you know, I think this is just fascinating because the Democrats went out, they recruited all of these Democrats from moderate districts, from the South, from the suburbs, and that's how they became a majority. It's easy to be disciplined when you're in the minority. But now they've got Democrats who don't all agree, and they're getting very frustrated with them. I think, frankly, this frustration is somewhat overblown. I mean, these conservative or moderate Democrats are not advocating something pernicious like segregation or denying people's rights. They're just economically and socially more conservative.
INSKEEP: So, Cokie, do those divisions among Democrats give Republicans an opportunity to make their presence felt here?
ROBERTS: Well, Republicans are trying hard to separate the policies of Barak Obama from the personality, because the president's policies are losing some traction with the public, according to the polls, but he's still very popular. On the subject of health care, there are still three - count them, three - Republican senators negotiating in the Finance Committee. But the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, says that they've promised him that if they're the only three Republicans who will sign on, that they will not call it a bipartisan bill. He says the only thing that's bipartisan about health care right now is the opposition to it.
INSKEEP: NPR's Cokie Roberts, analysis on this Monday morning. Cokie, thanks.
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