Obama pushes healthcare reform

The president weighs in again, as debate in Washington threatens to bog down


Mike Madden
July 18, 2009 1:18AM (UTC)

WASHINGTON -- For a White House that says it doesn't care about the 24-hour news cycle, President Obama's administration certainly pays a fair amount of attention to it.

As stories and cable segments about healthcare reform being in trouble mount, White House aides decided to send out Obama -- their best spokesman on that issue and just about any other -- today to try to change the discussion around. He didn't say anything he hasn't said before, but the administration seems to be hoping that simply by having Obama say it, they'll get some results.

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"I realize that Washington is often focused on the 24-hour news cycle instead of the long view, and I know that there is a good deal of that going on right now when it comes to health care," Obama said, in remarks that were added to his schedule only a couple hours before he spoke. "So I want everybody to just step back for a moment and look at the unprecedented progress that we've already made on reform that will finally lower costs, guarantee coverage, and provide more choice."

The president recapped what his administration has already gotten done: healthcare providers agreed to help cut costs, and drug manufacturers did the same; two House committees and one in the Senate have already passed legislation on reforms.

The problem, though, is that the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- where conservative Democrats have more sway than in the other panels involved in the issue -- still haven't acted. So Obama focused his remarks on them.

"I realize that the last few miles of any race are the hardest to run, but I have to say now is not the time to slow down, and now is certainly not the time to lose heart," he said. "Make no mistake, if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. There's no argument about that."

Conservatives say they're worried the legislation would cost too much, adding to the national debt. Obama insisted that wasn't true: "I've said that health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it," he said. "Let me repeat: Health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade, and I mean it."

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The White House wants healthcare reform to include measures to reduce the money spent on care, as well as measures to make it easier to get insurance -- the goal would be to encourage doctors and hospitals to only perform procedures that have been proven to work, rather than ordering expensive services simply for the sake of trying them or because that's what they're used to doing. The administration thinks cutting unnecessary spending will cover much of the cost of the healthcare reforms. But the big challenge over the next few weeks will be to figure out how to pay for the additional expenses involved. Obama doesn't want to sign on to proposals to tax healthcare benefits provided by employers, and Congress seems reluctant to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for the reforms.

The two holdout committees are expected to vote on their versions of the legislation next week, so expect Obama to keep up his push. The White House has already announced another primetime news conference on Wednesday night, where Obama will surely sell his healthcare plans.

But the pressure isn't necessarily working on its intended targets. "Obama speech on healthCareReform Absolutely nothing new," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who's the top GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote on Twitter after Obama's remarks. "Waste of time saying we are going to get that done Baucus and I know that But doRITE." (And yes, that's often how Grassley Twitters.)


Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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