Obama Exclusive on Health Care: 'We Intend to Get Something Done'
President to Provide Detailed Health Care Plan in Speech Before Congress
By CINDY SMITH and KATE McCARTHY
Sept. 9, 2009
In his highly anticipated address to Congress today, President Obama told ABC News that he would provide a much more detailed health care plan, saying that while he was still open to ideas, he is determined to get health care reform passed this year.
"So, the intent of the speech on [Wednesday] is to, A, make sure that the American people are clear exactly what it is that we are proposing," Obama told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview. "[And] B, to make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I'm open to new ideas, that we're not being rigid and ideological about this thing, but we do intend to get something done this year."
The president admitted he made mistakes during the national debate on health care reform that has gripped the country for months. "I, out of an effort to give Congress the ability to do their thing and not step on their toes, probably left too much ambiguity out there, which allowed then opponents of reform to come in and to fill up the airwaves with a lot of nonsense," Obama said.
Obama said the health care debate has been caught up in the "politics of the moment."
"I think there are some in the Republican Party who made a strategic decision that we can duplicate what happened in 1993, '94," Obama said, referring to former President Clinton's failed attempt at health care reform and the Republicans winning back control over Congress soon thereafter. "I think that folks are dusting off that old playbook."
Obama specifically mentioned the "ridiculous" idea of the government setting up "death panels to pull the plug on Grandma" and that reform would lead to a "government takeover" of the health care system.
A Public Option in Health Care Reform
The president told Roberts he understands that people are nervous about changes in the health care system and that the message got muddled.
"Moving things through Congress is always a messy process. We've got five committees with jurisdiction. That means there are five different bills," Obama said. "I think the public wasn't clear exactly what was what."
One of the more contentious aspects of the debate has been over a public option of a government-run insurance plan.
When asked if after his speech the public would know if he would sign a health care reform bill without a public option, Obama avoided answering the question directly.
"Well, I think what the country is going to know is exactly what I think will solve our health care crisis. They will have a lot of clarity about what I think is the best way to move forward," Obama said. "I'm not going to give you a preview of it before tonight. I want everybody to tune in."
But on Monday, Obama delivered a speech to the AFL-CIO where he voiced his support for a public option.
"I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs," Obama said.
Distractions in the Health Care Debate
The White House has had its share of distractions over the past few days, such as the resignation of Anthony "Van" Jones, Obama's special adviser at the Council on Environmental Quality, because of controversial statements he made in the past.
In 2004, Jones signed the "911 Truth Statement" petition, which suggested high-level government officials may have intentionally allowed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to occur.
But Obama said it is the press, not him, that has had trouble maintaining focus in the 24-hour news cycle, which he called "the equivalent of reality TV.
"Part of the frustration I have is that, on the Republican side, there are wonderful people whose voices I think are tamped down. That it is the shock jocks and radio hosts and the TV hosts that are driving the debate on that side," Obama said.
Obama's Education Speech to Children
Obama's prime-time address before Congress was preceded this week by another highly anticipated speech, his remarks to children about education.
Some conservatives argued that children should not be forced to watch the president and claimed Obama would use the opportunity to spread what they called liberal propaganda to the children.
Obama called the controversy over the speech "puzzling."
"And what we wanted to do today was to send that same message to the kids, that education isn't a passive experience. You don't just wait for somebody else to educate you," Obama told Roberts. "So, ironically, this is actually a speech that should appeal across political spectrums."
The president said speaking to the children reminded him of what is at stake.
"If we can stay focused on what's important and not spend a lot of time trying to score political points, then I really think that not only do we serve those young people well, but we serve the country well," Obama said.