President Pushes Hard On Health

Obama Urges Lawmakers To Act Quickly, Says Delay Is Attempt To Kill Reform Bill

July 22, 2009|By Christi Parsons | Christi Parsons,Tribune Newspapers

WASHINGTON - -Urging lawmakers to move quickly to overhaul American health care, President Barack Obama criticized the "politics of the moment" Tuesday and compared attempts to delay action on legislation with attempts to defeat it outright.

Some in Congress are trying to put off decisions on legislation "until special interests can kill it," Obama charged during an appearance before reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

"We can choose to follow that playbook again and then we'll never get over the goal line," the president said. "Or we can come together and insist that this time it will be different. We can choose action over inaction." The remarks were part of a White House blitz to promote the president's health care agenda this week, a strategy that includes television interviews, a prime-time news conference today and, on Thursday, a town hall meeting in Cleveland.

Republican lawmakers and some Democrats question whether they should approve a bill before the August congressional recess, as Obama wants.

An opinion poll released Tuesday indicates that 50 percent of Americans surveyed disapprove of how Obama is handling health care policy. Forty-four percent of respondents approve, according to the new USA Today/Gallup poll.

But the White House is selling the president's popularity on Capitol Hill, assuring supporters that Obama will help those who help his efforts. In a sign of his influence with lawmakers, Obama recorded an important victory Tuesday when the Senate acceded to a White House request and stripped funding for the F-22 fighter from the budget.

Far more important to Obama is health care reform, the signature issue of his presidential campaign and his top domestic priority. Supporters hope he can pass it now, while his approval ratings are strong.

Critics say failure now could weaken Obama as he fights for other priorities.

Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, took aim at Obama's argument on Tuesday, asking rhetorically why the administration is rushing to action on one of the most complex elements of the U.S. economy.

"Why this rush to get a health care bill signed or at least passed before the August recess?" Steele asked. "The way the administration is going about it is not appropriate to me."

The path forward is by no means clear. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat, delayed his panel's hearings on health care until Wednesday, after the committee's Democrats could have a private meeting with Obama.

Two other House panels have approved a health bill, but Waxman is working to garner support among colleagues on his committee.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to fight "government-run health care," their characterization of the plan Obama favors. The chamber's new Campaign for Responsible Health Reform is running print and online ads and inundating key members of Congress with letters and calls of opposition to Obama's plans.

During his statement in the Rose Garden, after which he took no questions, Obama excoriated the "familiar Washington script," which he suggested favors inertia over action.

He outlined the common ground among several bills now making their way through Congress, contending that lawmakers have agreed on a range of features, including a public health care option and guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

"Make no mistake," he said. "We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need ...

"Time and again, we've heard excuses to delay and defeat reform," Obama said, contending that Americans have suffered because Washington played "politics of the moment."

"Americans don't care who is up or down in Washington politics," Obama said. "The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable."

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