A CBS News report:
President Barack Obama is defending his relentless campaign for a health care bill before Congress’s August recess, saying “the default in Washington is inaction and inertia.” The Republican Party chairman assailed it as an “excessive push.”
The fault lines in the debate emerging as Topic A in the capital remained intact Tuesday as Obama defended the deadline, saying the American people want the overhaul done quickly, and GOP Chairman Michael Steele demanded: “Take your time!”
At the same time, Obama remained noncommital on a surtax to pay for the overhaul, which some experts have said could cost over $1 trillion in the next several years to reconstitute and incorporate some 46 million uninsured into the system.
The president noted in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that “the House has put forward a surtax.” And he repeated his feeling that wealthier Americans, “such as myself,” should pitch in and help reinvent the system to spread coverage to those now without it.
Obama has said that people making over $250,000 a year should have to pay more, and he defended his insistence on getting a bill from lawmakers before they leave next month on their summer recess. Asked why he felt so strongly about the timeline, he replied, “because if you don’t set a deadline in this town, nothing happens.”
“And the deadline isn’t being set by me,” he said. “It’s being set by the American people.”
Whatever the pressure points in the argument, Steele said it’s all happening too fast.
“It took a year and a half for us to create the Medicare system. Now we’re going to do the entire health care system in two weeks or six weeks,” he said Tuesday on CBS’s “The Early Show.”
“It is urgent and it is indisputable,” Steele said. “The problem that I have with it is the rush that is under way here.”
Obama acknowledged in the interview that lawmakers right now are “not where they need to be.” He has invited Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to a meeting at the White House later Tuesday and he has a primetime news conference scheduled for Wednesday night.
Asked about statements some Republicans have made indicating they think health care will damage his standing, Obama replied, “It’s typical. … Somehow people think this is about me. This is all about politics. … All I can say is, this is absolutely important to me, but this is not as important to me as it is to the people who don’t have health care. I’ve got health care.”
White House officials admit there is no easy way to pay for the kind of health care the president wants, but they say he’ll push hard to get it. As one official told CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante of Obama: “Do you realize how competitive he is?”
Without mentioning his critic by name, the president recounted South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s comment that stopping Mr. Obama’s bid for health care overhaul could be the president’s “Waterloo,” a reference to the site of Napoleon’s bitter defeat in 1815.
“This isn’t about me,” Mr. Obama responded. “This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy.”
Striking a more populist tone than in past remarks, the president complained that “health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system.”
“Let’s fight our way through the politics of the moment,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s pass reform by the end of this year.”
That reflects a shift in a timetable he has stressed repeatedly. Mr. Obama had said previously that he wanted the House and Senate to vote on legislation before lawmakers leave town for their August recess, with a comprehensive bill for him to sign in October.
“I want this done now. Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town,” Mr. Obama told PBS’s “The NewsHour.” “If somebody comes to me and says ‘It’s basically done, it’s going to spill over by a few days or a week,’ you know, that’s different.”
He said too much of the focus has been on what has not been accomplished instead of on a coalition of health companies, professionals and constituents. Later in the day, aides organized a conference call for Obama to speak with liberal bloggers and rally them behind the White House’s broad outline for overhaul.
“One of the things that I know the blogs are best at is debunking myths that can slip through a lot of the traditional media outlets and a lot of the conventional wisdom,” he said, according to audio of the call posted on Web sites. “And that is why you are going to play such an important role in our success in the weeks to come.”
Steele accused Mr. Obama of conducting a risky experiment that will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverage.
“Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” Steele said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Asked whether Mr. Obama’s health care plan represented socialism, Steele responded: “Yes. Next question.”
Mr. Obama has said he does not favor a government-run health care system. Legislation taking shape in the House envisions private insurance companies selling coverage in competition with the government.
The president is struggling to advance his trademark health care proposal after a period of evident progress. Two of three House committees have approved their portions of the bill, while one of two Senate panels have acted. A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday shows approval of Mr. Obama’s handling of health care overhaul slipping below 50 percent for the first time.
The president, who spent most of last week making his plea for health care overhaul, was pressing his case hard again this week, first at the children’s hospital, and later this week in a prime-time news conference Wednesday and a town hall in Ohio on Thursday. On Tuesday he planned to meet with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the one House committee that hasn’t yet acted on the bill.
Energy and Commerce members worked into the night Monday, but besides numerous objections raised by Republicans the committee has a bloc of conservative Democrats who’ve raised objections to some elements of the legislation. However, there were signs Monday that some of their concerns were being addressed. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who with other anti-abortion Democrats had threatened to oppose the bill over concerns it would fund abortions, said a compromise was being worked out.
As the Energy and Commerce meeting wrapped up after midnight Monday, the panel chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., announced it would not reconvene until Wednesday. He didn’t mention the White House appointment but said he’d been having good discussions with panel members that he wanted to pursue.
Meanwhile Pelosi is floating an idea that could make proposed tax increases more palatable to fiscally conservative Democrats. She would like to limit income tax increases to couples making more than $1 million a year and individuals making more than $500,000.
The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee last week would increase taxes on couples making as little as $350,000 a year and individuals annually making as little as $280,000.
“I’d like it to go higher than it is,” Pelosi told CBS News partner Politico on Friday.
The speaker would like the trigger raised to $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for families, “so it’s a millionaire’s tax,” she said. “When someone hears, ‘2,’ they think, ‘Oh, I could be there,’ because they don’t know the $280,000 is for one person.
In the Senate, negotiators seeking a bipartisan compromise reported progress Monday. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said there’s tentative agreement on four big policy issues out of a list of about one dozen. He would not elaborate.
Separately, senators are discussing a variation on the idea of taxing high-cost health insurance benefits. The proposal would not raise taxes on individuals and families. Instead, insurers and employers who offer the benefits would pay the tax. Advocates say such a tax would encourage people to be thriftier consumers of health care. Prospects are uncertain.
Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders face a new batch of ads.
Republican officials said they were supplementing Steele’s speech with a round of television advertising designed to oppose government-run health care. The 30-second commercial, titled “Grand Experiment,” criticizes recent government aid to the auto industry and banks as “the biggest spending spree in our history” and warns similarly of “a risky experiment with our health care.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business group, planned to announce ads of its own Tuesday criticizing the government-run insurance proposal, saying it would threaten employer-provided coverage.
R. Bruce Josten, the group’s top lobbyist, said the campaign would begin with a $2 million budget and include newspaper and Internet ads, as well as efforts to drum up public support across the country. The ads will appear in Capitol Hill newspapers beginning Tuesday, then in coming days in newspapers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Nebraska and other states where lawmakers are wavering.
Citing liberal and labor groups that have run ads criticizing Democrats who have not endorsed the health care effort, Josten said, “It’s time to push back a little bit.”
Separately, the insurance industry, which challenged then-President Bill Clinton’s health care effort in the early 1990s, launched a $1.4 million ad campaign, its first TV ads of this year’s health care fight. The multimillion-dollar campaign, being aired nationally on cable stations, restates the industry’s support for an overhaul that provides universal coverage and its offer to cover people who are already sick. The ad campaign does not mention the insurers’ strong opposition to creating a government-run insurance option.
An official disclosed the cost of the campaign on condition of anonymity, as the numbers have not been made public.