Obama Urges Labor Help On Health Care

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President Obama appealed to labor unions on Labor Day to help him win the health care fight in Congress. The comments came in Cincinnati where the president was speaking to a gathering of the AFL-CIO.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

President Obama began a crucial week with a Labor Day speech to union workers in Ohio today. Organized labor strongly supported Mr. Obama during last year's election. And the president now is hoping to tap that enthusiasm as he makes a push to overhaul the country's health care system. NPR's Scott Horsley, who's covering the president in Cincinnati, joins us now. Scott, I take it the climate there today wasn't particularly ideal for Labor Day celebration.

SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right, Noah, the skies here are overcast today and there was a threat of rain, so Mr. Obama spoke inside a covered pavilion. Of course there are also a lot of economic clouds hanging over the country's head. Job losses, although they have slowed, continue. And many people who are still working are nervous about their job situation. The president did offer some encouraging words though today, saying the employment picture is getting better.

President BARACK OBAMA: Make no mistake we're moving in the right direction. We're on the road to recovery, Ohio. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: You know, the president's tone today was a lot like what we heard so often during the campaign. Someone, who manages to stay upbeat even in tough times and someone who at his best manages to encourage those around him as well.

ADAMS: The president has been fond of czars, it seems, and today he announced a new czar - a manufacturing czar. What would that person do?

HORSLEY: That's right. Ron Bloom, who's been a member of the president's automotive task force, a leader of the task force and someone who's worked in the past with the steel workers and has now helped to engineer the rescues of General Motors and Chrysler. You know, we got some encouraging news on the manufacturing front last week, when an index came out showing manufacturing is growing for the first time in a year and half. But so far that's not translating into more manufacturing jobs, and Mr. Obama has said repeatedly he wants the U.S. to be a country that makes things. So Ron Bloom will now have, in addition to his automotive portfolio, the task of trying to promote U.S. exports and also to improve worker training.

ADAMS: And speaking of training, the president speaks tomorrow to the nation's schoolchildren, and this is getting quite a bit of attention. And we got a preview today. What's he going to say?

HORSLEY: That's right. The White House released an advance copy of the president's speech in an effort to allay the concerns of any parents who might have been frightened by some of these claims from the president's more vociferous critics that he was going to be spreading socialist indoctrination in his back-to-school message. The actual text as provided by the White House shows it's really just encouraging kids to stay in school, to work hard. He points to his own example and that of first lady Michelle Obama and how important education has been to their success.

His spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said today, it's a sad day when anyone would question such a speech. And he notes that with almost three in ten students not finishing high school in the U.S., that's not a formula for either those students' own economic success or the success of the country in the long run.

ADAMS: And of course the president's big speech this week is coming up on Wednesday. He addresses a joint session of Congress about health care. Any preview of that today?

HORSLEY: Well, not - not a full advance text certainly but the president has said essentially that his message is going to be that after a long summer of argument, health care has been talked about enough.

Pres. OBAMA: But every debate, at some point, comes to an end.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: At some point it's time to decide.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: At some point it's time to act. Ohio, it's time to act. And get this thing done.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: The president continued to say he supports a public insurance option as part of a marketplace of insurance. That's something that AFL leaders have said they believe is crucially important. Of course there are those on the right who say that the inclusion of government-run public insurance option is a dealbreaker.

ADAMS: Thank you very much. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley traveling with President Obama today in Ohio. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be you with you, Noah.

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