Obama Works To Rekindle Fading Support President Obama's political prestige is on the line this week, as he makes a personal push for changes in the nation's health care system. He speaks to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night about the kind of changes he wants to see. At a Labor Day picnic in Ohio Monday, Obama tried to recapture some of the enthusiasm that helped drive his long-shot campaign.
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Obama Works To Rekindle Fading Support

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Obama Works To Rekindle Fading Support

Obama Works To Rekindle Fading Support

Obama Works To Rekindle Fading Support

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President Obama's political prestige is on the line this week, as he makes a personal push for changes in the nation's health care system. He speaks to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night about the kind of changes he wants to see. At a Labor Day picnic in Ohio Monday, Obama tried to recapture some of the enthusiasm that helped drive his long-shot campaign.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good Morning I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Back in September 1993, President Bill Clinton addressed a joint session of Congress. He told lawmakers, he expected them to pass a national health insurance plan. Lawmakers didn't.

INSKEEP: In September 2009, President Barack Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress. He is expected to press for his own health care changes, which have also encountered fierce resistance. In a moment we'll hear what lawmakers are thinking.

We begin with NPR's Scott Horsley who's traveling with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Labor Day was cloudy in Cincinnati and Mr. Obama acknowledged the summer of 2009 is ending on a sour note. The economy is still struggling, people continue to lose jobs, and so far, the nation's political leaders have not offered much reason for hope.

President BARACK OBAMA: It's been the usual bickering in Washington. Doesn't seem like that ever stops.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: Pundits on TV, they're saying how all this isn't working and that's not working. You know, you start getting into a funk.

HORSLEY: The president's own approval ratings have suffered as well. So for inspiration yesterday, Mr. Obama dug back to a familiar story from his presidential campaign. It happened when he was still a little known long shot, speaking to a tiny crowd in rural South Carolina. When a local leader there started chanting, fired up and ready to go, Mr. Obama recalled, at first, he didn't know what to think.

Pres. OBAMA: But here's the thing, Ohio, after about a minute or two, I'm starting to feel kind of fired up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: I'm starting to feel like I'm ready to go.

HORSLEY: Fired up, ready to go, became a mantra, of course, for the Obama juggernaut - eventually chanted by tens of thousands of people at noisy outdoor rallies. In re-telling the story yesterday, Mr. Obama hoped to rekindle fading support for changes in the nation's health care system.

Pres. OBAMA: Your voice will get health care passed.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: Your voice will make sure that the American worker is protected. You can build America. I need your help. Thank you, Cincinnati. Are you fired up?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: Ready to go.

HORSLEY: For supporters like Tony Suarez(ph) of Cincinnati, the return of campaign style Obama was just what the doctor ordered.

Mr. TONY SUAREZ: He has finally started saying that for health care this is it. He's finally had it with waiting on the other guys to come up with something, just come up with something or let's just go ahead and do it our way, let's do it. I thought that was great.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama will try to keep the pressure on Congress with his televised address tomorrow night. Yesterday, he offered little in the way of a sneak preview, but he did reiterate his support for a public insurance option as one way to keep private insurers honest.

Pres. OBAMA: They should be free to make a profit, but they also have to be fair.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: They also have to be accountable.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: That's why we're talking about security and stability for folks who have health insurance, help for those who don't.

HORSLEY: Some conservatives say they won't vote for an overall plan that includes a public option. Some liberals say they won't vote for a plan without it. Last week, AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka warned the union would punish any politician who doesn't insist on a public insurance option. At the picnic yesterday, Trumka said that was not a threat aimed at Mr. Obama.

Mr. RICHARD TRUMKA (Labor leader, secretary-treasurer AFL-CIO): We're going to help him stand strong, to stand up to the myths and the lies that have been perpetuated by the insurance company who have a vested interest in keeping this system exactly the way it is - because they win and we lose if the system stays the same.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama himself could use a win at a time when even an innocuous address to schoolchildren has become a target for right wing critics. Yesterday, the White House released a text of today's back to school message, in which Mr. Obama urges young people to work hard and not give up. That lesson could payoff for the president in the health care battle.

The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough, Mr. Obama will tell students, it's about people who kept going, who tried harder.

Scott Horsley NPR News, Washington.

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