Obama Calls For Fast 'Yes' On Health Care

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama Saturday made yet another push for health care overhaul and called on Congress for support. For the latest political calculations on health care legislation, host Scott Simon talks with NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama's making yet another push for his health-care overhaul plan.

President BARACK OBAMA: I know it's been a long and hard road to this point and we're not finished with our journey just yet, but we are close, very close. So, I ask Congress to finish its work. I ask them to give the American people an up or down vote.

SIMON: Mr. Obama, speaking in today's weekly radio address and Internet address. The Republican response from Alabama congressman Parker Griffith.

Representative PARKER GRIFFITH (Republican, Alabama): It's not too late. We can and we must stop this government takeover of health care.

SIMON: NPR's Juan Williams joins us here in the studio. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And those lines seem to be pretty clear, right?

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

SIMON: What happens next?

WILLIAMS: Well, the idea is that the House would go first. There are some people in the Senate who insist the House go first. Some in the House would like the Senate to take some action. But right now, it looks as if the White House is pressing for the House to go first. Remember, the House passed this bill 220-215 back in November.

At the time, you had 39 Democrats. All but one of the Republicans voting no. so, now the White House is focused with the fact that two Democrats have resigned, a third has died. They're looking for people who will shift votes. And they're struggling, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, struggling to gain those votes.

You have six House Democrats who did oppose it, retiring. And one of them, Bart Gordon, for example, of Tennessee has said he thinks this bill is moving in a more fiscally responsible direction. So, he may actually shift his vote. That's the kind of thing that the president and Nancy Pelosi are looking for.

SIMON: What can the speaker - for that matter, the president - do?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, they can make the case that if you can't solve this problem, no problem can be solved, which is almost a paraphrase of what the president has said in meetings with members of the House just this week -Thursday night, Thursday afternoon, he had different groups over to the White House. He's making a strong push to make this happen.

And he's to make it happen by the March 26 Easter break. Initially, he wanted it by March 18 but Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, the Democratic leaders in the House, have said they don't think that they can do it possibly before the end of March, this being a $950 billion package for a 10-year period.

SIMON: And is there any concern on the Republican side about just appearing to say no, or do they think that's a pretty strong hand?

WILLIAMS: They think it's a strong hand. They felt they had a very good performance, coming out of the summit meeting at Blair House. And they are persisting in it, especially focused on high costs and the possibility of tax increases, saying this is unfunded and to some level, unfunded entitlements. They don't believe CBO scoring that indicates it might be somehow deficit neutral.

SIMON: And let me ask you about the nomination of Scott Matheson, a Utah lawyer, to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

WILLIAMS: Well now, this is, you know, his brother...

SIMON: How does this play into this show?

WILLIAMS: ...his brother is Jim Matheson, and Jim Matheson is a vote very much that President Obama would like to get. And you know, the congressman is one of those people who went over to the White House. And the question is, do we have here a quid pro quo? The White House says, no, absolutely not. But the timing, Scott, I mean, anybody who knows politics...

SIMON: Yeah, well, that's how they do it in Chicago.

WILLIAMS: Well, in fact...

SIMON: And he's a qualified lawyer. If you need a judge, why not the brother of a congressman whose vote you need?

WILLIAMS: It's not that the guy is a bozo; it's not that he's unqualified. But it's just that this is the appropriate time, maybe, to remind the congressman he's got a friend in the White House. It's the kind of Chicago-style politics, actually, that you've written about in ''Windy City" - because, I mean, it looks to me like - I mean, think about the characters we have here.

Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, a Chicagoan; David Axelrod, the top political adviser, a Chicagoan. It looks like, you know - I think the Republicans say it's conservative Chicago-style thug politics. But what do you think?

SIMON: But they're not used to dealing with Republicans, the Chicago group that's with...

WILLIAMS: Well, that's right.

SIMON: ...President Obama.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. The idea that there would be an opposition party that could take control of the narrative and describe health care as limiting options, rationing, death panels - they're not accustomed to having to cope with it.

SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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