Obama used the presidential bully pulpit to project his talking points on health care reform and, at times, reverted to the professorial tone that marked the press conferences early in his presidency. He said health care reform is tied to improving the nation's struggling economy, and said several times Wednesday night that he'd inherited a massive deficit from the Bush administration.
He reiterated that message today in Cleveland, veering off script to admonish the previous administration.
"I have to say that folks have a lot of nerve who were -- helped us get into this fiscal hole and then start going around trying to talk about fiscal responsibility," Obama said. "I'm always a little surprised that… that people don't have a little more shame about having created a mess and then try to point fingers."
The president is committed to getting legislation finished this year.
"We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice and provides coverage that every American can count on, and we will do it this year," he said Wednesday.
Obama defended the stimulus plan, which has been criticized for not doing enough to create jobs quickly and being too costly.
The president said that as a result of his administration's actions, including the $787 billion package, "we have been able to pull our economy back from the brink."
But he cautioned that the nation still has "a long way to go."
In an interview with Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt Wednesday afternoon, Obama said this is the best opportunity to get health care reform passed and if it fails, nothing will happen for at least four years.
"If health care reform fails, there is no way that Congress is going to take up a serious effort to control health care inflation -- there's no way that we're going to pass the kinds of changes we've already talked about in Medicare, for example, in the absence of a more comprehensive reform package," he said. "And so what we're going to have is a situation in which it's just business as usual for, I think, the next four years at minimum, and maybe the next eight -- in which case the problem is just going to keep on getting worse and worse."
In his fourth prime time press conference from the White House, the president aimed his message directly at the American people, especially those skeptical about his push for reform.
"I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, 'What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?'" he said.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday, just under half, 49 percent, of Americans, said they approve of Obama's handling of health care, down 8 percent from when he took office.
Eight in 10 in the poll expressed concern that reform could reduce their quality, coverage and choice of care, and increase their costs, government bureaucracy and the deficit, with anywhere from 51 to 62 percent "very" concerned about these outcomes. Fifty-eight percent of Americans said they doubted that they would be able to keep the coverage they have now without any changes, even though the president has said repeatedly that choice will remain.
The president dismissed the sinking approval ratings on health care, saying in a PBS interview Monday that "it means what we're doing is hard."