Obama Comes Out Swinging at Cynical GOP on Health Care, Addresses Race Issues in Prof. Gates Arrest
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At a press conference in the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama came out swinging tonight at Republicans who would aim to make the debate over health-care reform the president's personal Waterloo.
He finished the night with a big bang, when he took a question on a racially charged incident, and responded with ironic humor. In between, he was all wonk.
If the president sought to inspire the viewing public about the need for health insurance reform, he most certainly didn't do that. If he meant to reassure them that he's smart enough to know how to make it work, he may have succeeded. What he seemed to think he was there to do was to answer reporters' complex questions about complicated issues in a way that wouldn't sully negotiations taking place in Congress. And that he did quite well.
In his opening remarks, the president spoke firmly, lightly pounding his lectern, as he stressed the need for reform. Every day, he said, 14,000 Americans lose their health care coverage. Then, without naming names, he said of his adversaries across the aisle, "I’ve heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it’s better politics to ' go for the kill.' Another Republican senator said that defeating health reform is about ' breaking' me." (Allow me to name names for you: The first reference is to Bill Kristol, and the second, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.)
"So let me be clear," Obama continued. "This isn’t about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings. …This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer."
An early question from David Alexander of Reuters repeated a Republican theme regarding the president's August deadline for passing health-insurance reform legislation. The theme goes like this: " Hey, what's the rush?"
Obama repeated his refrain that nothing happens in Washington without a deadline. But then, citing the bills that came out of two House committees last week, and one in the Senate, as well as endorsements from a range of advocacy groups, representing "doctors, nurses, hospitals, even the pharmaceutical industry and the AARP," Obama got a little cosmic: "I think means that the stars are aligned, and we need to take advantage of that."
Fielding reporters' questions, the president sought to explain why health care reform would not actually drive up the deficit and said he understood that the American people might be a little "queasy" about what appears to be another spending bill coming on top of the bank bailouts and the stimulus package.
"We've just become so cynical about what government can accomplish," Obama said, calling that an understandable result of people not seeing much lawmaking that was helpful to them come out of Washington in the past few years.
The president contended that he would not sign any health care reform bill that would drive up the deficit, saying the charge that health insurance reform would push the debt and the deficit higher was a false argument that "has been used, effectively, I think, by people who don't want to change health care."
Two-thirds of the new system's cost would come from efficiencies and savings built into the plan, Obama said, with the final third coming from some sort of revenue-generator that would not come "on the backs of the middle class."