President Obama Pushes Health Care In Ohio
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The battle to pass or stop President Obama's health care overhaul has reached fever pitch. The president, in full campaign mode, flew to Strongsville, Ohio today. There he lobbied wavering Democrats and a skeptical public, while honing his health care argument to a razor sharp edge pointed directly at insurance companies.
NPR's Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: Ohio was no coincidence. There're several Congress members there whose votes the president wants to get, and its the home of Natoma Canfield, the self-employed house cleaner and cancer victim whose tragic story Mr. Obama has been using like a cudgel. He even read her letter word-for-word to a group of insurance company CEOs at the White House earlier this month. Now he's woven Canfield's story into his closing argument on health care, which casts insurance companies as the clear villain.
President BARACK OBAMA: We're going to eliminate wasteful taxpayer subsidies that currently go to insurance companies.
(Soundbite of applause)
President OBAMA: Insurance companies are making billions of dollars on subsidies from you, the taxpayer. And if we take those subsidies away, we can use them to help folks like Natoma get health insurance so she doesnt lose her house.
(Soundbite of cheering)
LIASSON: In the beginning of the debate the insurers' trade group was tentatively for an overhaul, willing to submit themselves to government regulation in return for 30 million new customers. But they didnt like the tongue lashing theyve been getting from the White House, particularly after Anthem Blue Cross of California raised some rates by 39 percent. So some of the health insurers have been contributing to one of the many ad campaign that are clogging the airwaves.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Unidentified Woman: But now Congress is trying to use special rules to ram through their same trillion-dollar health care bill, billions in new taxes, more mandates...
LIASSON: The Chamber of Commerce is spending $10 million on that ad. The proponents of an overhaul are also spending millions, but the number of phone calls to Congress and the amount of money spent on television appear to give the opponents an advantage. Still, it's nothing like 1994, when big pharma and the health insurers, Harry and Louise, took the lead in killing the Clinton's health care bill.
Ron Pollack of Families USA has been working with hospitals, doctors, drug makers and big businesses. And he says whats remarkable about this year's fight is how many of the interest groups are still on board.
Mr. RON POLLACK (Executive Director, Families USA): Most of the industry groups that have been involved in health care reform, because they're major stakeholders, most them are still supporting health care reform. And I think they still believe in the model that while they're going to experience cutbacks - there may be fewer payments - but I think they fully understand that they will more than make up for it with volume, as 30-some odd million people who dont have coverage today gain coverage.
LIASSON: The Obama health care effort has been stymied by a different set of problems: a disciplined Republican minority in Congress, outspoken grassroots opposition, and the inability of the president's own party to pass it. Those are the obstacles President Obama is now trying to surmount, as he engages in a furious round of private one-on-one lobbying.
He even took two wavering Democrats with him on Air Force One today. One was former presidential candidate and Ohio Democrat, Dennis Kucinich. The president made sure Kucinich got some extra attention in his speech.
President OBAMA: I was talking to Dennis Kucinich on the way over here about this. I said, you know what, it's been such a long time...
Unidentified Woman: Long time.
President OBAMA: ...since we made government on the side of ordinary working folks...
(Soundbite of applause)
President OBAMA: ...where we did something for them.
LIASSON: Kucinich, one of the most liberal Democrats in the House, voted against the health care bill in November. He preferred a public option and believed the bill didnt go far enough. He's a no-vote the president dearly wants to change to a yes.
Today in Ohio, Kucinich said he didnt want to comment on his current position on the bill.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.
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