Obama Tries To Build Momentum For Health Overhaul

Reaching for a game-changer, President Barack Obama is beset by conflicting goals in a prime-time address Wednesday expected to detail just how he wants to expand health care coverage and lower medical costs while signaling to a deeply divided Congress that he's ready to deal.

And show the public he's in control.

Even as Obama prepared to speak to lawmakers and a live television audience, the leader of the influential Senate Finance Committee raced to broker a bipartisan agreement on the president's top domestic priority.

The White House set a high bar for the rare presidential address to a joint session of Congress, acknowledging the huge stakes and creating big expectations about the level of specificity Obama would provide. The president has stressed repeatedly the broad goals for the sweeping health care overhaul he seeks, but has left the details to lawmakers. Through a hot summer of angry debate, he lost his grip on the process.

Aiming to reclaim it at a pivotal moment and open a final push for a bill, Obama said, "We do intend to get something done this year."

"I'm open to new ideas," he said in an interview for broadcast Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" in which he previewed the themes of his speech. "We're not being rigid and ideological about this thing."

With the approximately 35-minute speech still being written, much by Obama himself, White House officials said the president will "answer all the major questions" — including the sticky issue of how to pay for getting coverage for the 50 million Americans who lack it.

"Everyone who listens will understand that his plan has at its core two overriding goals — to bring stability and security to Americans who have insurance today, and affordable coverage to those who don't," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said.

It was unlikely that Obama would issue explicit veto threats, as he prefers to focus on what he is for rather than on what he will refuse to support, aides said. He also wasn't delivering a piece of legislation to Capitol Hill, where three House committees and one in the Senate already have devised their own, partisan versions.

Obama will appear before lawmakers a day after their return from an August recess marked by contentious town halls and much misinformation and confusion about what a health care overhaul may look like.

A senior administration official said Obama has ceased worrying about whether he gets any Republican participation. "If they don't want to, we can't worry about that," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely discuss behind-the-scenes thinking.

But that is no longer Obama's biggest difficulty, a fact underscored by the conflicting advice he was getting from within his own party.

Rep. Zack Space, D-Ohio, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition, said Obama should "appeal to both sides of the aisle, and to everyone involved in this situation, to embrace a sense of compromise and moderation."

But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, said he wanted Obama to state his unequivocal support for a government-run health insurance option to compete with private companies, and to clearly distance himself from the two alternatives now circulating. One of those would structure a public plan so that it would be triggered only if private insurance companies weren't providing enough affordable choices in certain areas; the other would set up nonprofit co-ops.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, circulated a proposal that would cost $900 billion over 10 years and guarantee coverage for nearly all Americans, regardless of medical problems. Fees on insurers, drug companies and others in the health care industry would finance tax credits to help expand coverage. Baucus' panel is the only one of the five involved in health care not to complete a bill yet, and the only one still searching for a bipartisan compromise.

One provision would fine families up to $3,800 for failing to buy health insurance, essentially requiring that everyone have medical coverage, much like the case with car insurance. Obama rejected a mandate, and fines, during his presidential campaign.

Baucus asked his "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiators to report back with suggestions by Wednesday morning. "I made that clear, that the bipartisan effort will have more effect if there's agreement prior to the president's address," he said.

But few appeared ready to do as Baucus wants and move before hearing from the president. "That's the cart before the horse, as they say in Maine," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican being courted by the White House.

Like bipartisanship, prospects for a public insurance plan also dimmed. It is not in Baucus' plan, and two prominent House Democrats backed away from it Tuesday.

It is this issue that has become Obama's main quandary: Liberal lawmakers say they won't vote for legislation that doesn't include a public plan. But Republicans and many moderate Democrats won't vote for one with it.

Gibbs said Obama would explain why he supports a public option — and how it wouldn't be "some grandiosely subsidized, unlevel playing field" that would drive private insurers out of business. But there's no sign Obama will draw a line in the sand over it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Obama told her and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during a White House meeting Tuesday that his message would essentially be: "If you have a better idea, put it on the table."


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by MrT Location: LaNC on Sep 9, 2009 at 07:01 PM
    Lavon, I know you almost choked on that lie at 5:59PM.
  • by Lavon Location: Goldsboro on Sep 9, 2009 at 02:59 PM
    honestly- Why do you continue to make this about race and color? Why don't you stop it. To answer the question, yes I would support him if he was a WHITE Republican. I think that's a question you need to be asking yourself. Stop suggesting race
  • by Honestly on Sep 9, 2009 at 11:55 AM
    One question Lavon, and be honest. Would you really be saying all of these things if he wasn't black? What if he were a white Republican and was doing all of these things, what would you be saying then?
  • by Lavon Location: Goldsboro on Sep 9, 2009 at 06:37 AM
    I tell you olks that President has really hit the ground running during his Presidency. This man really cares about us Americans. Never before do I remember any President in the past that has taken the wheel and really got out there and made things happen like Obama is doing. This man is truly Heaven sent. Thank God for blessing us with this man
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Sep 9, 2009 at 06:25 AM
    As far as I know there is no finished bill. Nothing on the Presidents desk to sign. I have read some of the bill, trying to find some of the paragraphs about "death panels" and some of the other dribble that has come out. I assume many of the provisions in the House bill will be in the final, but we don't know yet. The President will lay out what he'd LIKE to see, but he doesn't make law. I would actually like to see Republicans involved because I think they can be a check on over spending, BUT I'm afraid we are going to just end up with a watered down version, just some improvement (which is obviously better than none). As long as we have a "health care for profit" system we are going to have decisions based on whats best for the stockholders, not the patient.
  • by Patriot Location: Washington on Sep 9, 2009 at 05:59 AM
    Hopefully the President will actually speak to details of his health reform plan. And to Barlow, we have been making judgments on our own, first by reading the HR-3200. As far as Republicans, they have submitted several plans that have been ignored thus far. So, why don't you read all the facts yourself.
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Sep 9, 2009 at 04:38 AM
    Hopefully people will actually listen to the President's speech. After you hear them, if you disagree, that is certainly your right. Prejudging and listening to those with a vested interest in the status quo will not allow you to learn anything. This is your opportunity to make a judgment on your own. Watch and listen. I predict the Republican side of the isle will spend a lot of time sitting on their butts, which is something they excel at.
  • by Lavon Location: Goldsboro on Sep 9, 2009 at 04:06 AM
    Disgusted- Ideas win the Presidency not complaining so that means YOU CAN'T WIN!
  • by Tyrone Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 04:05 AM
    Mr. Obama, I would first suggest dropping the public option, and then tort reform to start with. Once you have Nancy's ok then call me for more idea's.
  • by Disgusted on Sep 9, 2009 at 02:25 AM
    HELLO! Does anyone in Washington, DC know what is going on? That group in "charge" has no idea of what to do or how to implement it. People, we have 3.5 years left of this stupidity.
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