WASHINGTON (CN) – A noticeably restless President Barack Obama took the health-care debate up a level Wednesday in a prime-time news conference seeking public, and congressional, support for health-care reform. At times, the president struck out at critics and the prior administration. “This is about every family, every business, and every taxpayer who continues to shoulder the burden of a problem that Washington has failed to solve for decades,” Obama said.
The news conference followed a string of speeches Obama has given on health-care reform, including one each day this week. He is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting today in Cleveland on the matter.
Democrats are struggling to keep their own members’ support for reforms. Some conservative Democrats have voted, unsuccessfully, against passing health-care legislation out of their committees. The faltering support has caused Democrats to consider more moderate legislation, possibly rolling back the cost or reconsidering a tax increase on the wealthy.
Republicans continue to attack the health-care reforms.
“If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him,” South Carolina Republican Senator James DeMint said.
Obama observed, “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.”
The president said opponents have claimed that reform would burden the budget and called reform “just one more government program.”
Obama was notably more frustrated and restless, removed from his traditional calm and collected demeanor, on Wednesday night.
“We’ve become so cynical about what government can accomplish,” he said, and in an apparent swing at the last administration, said that Americans “haven’t seen a lot of laws coming out of Washington lately that help them.”
Reform legislation has passed quickly out of three of the five committees charged with working on health-care reform.
Obama clarified how the planned reform would benefit Americans.
“This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance,” he said. “Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job.”
The president said 14,000 Americans are losing their health care coverage each day, that 47 million Americans are without care, and that the average family pays $6,000 more each year than families in other advanced countries. “If we don’t change, we can’t expect a different result,” he said.
Obama tied health-care reform to an economic recovery. “Even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.”
He stressed the widespread agreement that reform should prevent insurance companies from dropping coverage if people become too sick or if they lose their job, and that it should limit the amount insurers can demand in out-of-pocket fees.
He said preventative care, such as mammograms, will be covered by insurance.
If the policies of the George W. Bush administration were unchanged, the United States would suffer a $9.3 trillion deficit over the next 10 years, Obama said in a rare swipe at the Bush administration. He said that under his own budget, the nation will suffer a reduced, albeit enormous, deficit of $7.1 trillion over the same period. “Now, that’s not good,” Obama said, but credited health-care reform with reducing the sum.
Medicare and Medicaid are the biggest driving forces behind the federal deficit. “If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit,” Obama said, adding that the programs will break the economy if left unchanged.
Obama drew a distinction between the policies of George W. Bush, who cut taxes for the wealthy and implemented a Medicare prescription program, and his own proposed reforms.
“It will be paid for,” he promised. He said this important difference is “partly why I inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit.”
In a standard reference to government “waste,” he said, “Already we have estimated that two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs.”
But Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, was skeptical. She said it would be impossible to cut $600 billion from Medicaid and Medicare because every program has a constituency.
“Congress has zero track record of being able to do that,” Turner said in a telephone interview.
Obama has called for Congress to pass health-care reform legislation before it takes its August recess.
“If you don’t set deadlines in this town, things don’t happen,” the president said, adding that Americans are suffering every day that reform is delayed.