Obama: 'This is a Health Care Bill, Not an Abortion Bill'

ABC News' Jake Tapper sits down with the president for an exclusive interview.

November 9, 2009, 10:34 AM

Nov. 9, 2009— -- President Obama said today that Congress needs to change abortion-related language in the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives this weekend.

"I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said. "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions."

Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funded abortions, the president said, "There are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."

After a contentious debate, the House passed a health care bill Saturday that includes a provision banning abortion from being covered in the public insurance option contained in the bill. The bill also prevents women receiving insurance subsidies from purchasing private plans that cover abortion. Liberals in the House Democratic caucus were opposed to these provisions but voted for the overall bill.

In an exclusive television interview in the Map Room of the White House, Obama told ABC News' Jake Tapper that he was confident that the final legislation will ensure that "neither side feels that it's being betrayed."

"I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices," he said.

Watch more of President Obama's interview with Jake Tapper tonight on "World News" and "Nightline" and tomorrow on "Good Morning America."

The president was also asked about concerns that the Medicare cuts he proposes to help pay for health care reform would be undone by Congress subsequently, as is often the case with deficit and cost cutting measures.

"Are you willing to pledge that whatever cuts in Medicare are being made to fund health insurance, one third of it, that you will veto anything that tries to undo that?" Tapper asked.

"Yes," the president said. "I actually have said that it is important for us to make sure this thing is deficit neutral, without tricks."

Obama told ABC News there is still more work to be done before a final health care bill reaches his desk for a signature.

"I think everybody understands that there's going to be work to be done on the Senate side," he said. "It's not going to match up perfectly with the House side."

Obama: All Necessary Steps Will Be Taken to Prevent Another Tragedy Like Fort Hood

On Tuesday, Obama will attend a memorial service at Fort Hood for the 13 killed in last week's shooting. Today he reiterated that the nation is "heartbroken" by what happened there Thursday, but said there are many questions to be answered.

The president was asked about an ABC News report that intelligence officials learned months ago that Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan had reached out via the Internet to al Qaeda affiliates, and had passed it into military intelligence, though no official actions seem to have been taken. But he wouldn't say directly whether he was concerned that the U.S. government failed to communicate with itself as was seen in the investigation into 9/11.

"We are going to complete this investigation and we're going to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again," he said.

Obama said it was important to let the investigation play itself out so the details as to how and why the rampage happened are known before he comments further.

Asked what philosophically separates an act of violence from an act of terrorism, the president said, "I think the questions that we're asking now and we don't have yet complete answers to is, is this an individual who's acting in this way or is it some larger set of actors? You know, what are the motivations? Those are all questions that I think we have to ask ourselves. Until we have these answers buttoned down, I'd rather not comment on it.

Obama has yet to publicly announce his decision on a new way forward in Afghanistan and is deliberating whether to send more U.S. troops there, as the commander on the ground, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has requested. He will meet again Wednesday with his top national security advisors to discuss the Afghanistan strategy.

Asked what variables would play into his decision-making that would cause him to not just take McChystal's recommendation and implement it, Obama said today that he's talking to a wide variety of people, both commanders and civilians, to get the best possible picture of the situation.

"I've been asking not only Gen. McChrystal, but all of our commanders who are familiar with the situation, as well as our civilian folks on the ground, a lot of questions that, until they're answered, may -- may create a situation in which we resource something based on faulty premises," the president said.

Obama described his deliberative process as making "sure that we have tested all the assumptions that we're making before we send young men and women into harm's way, that if we are sending additional troops, that the prospects of a functioning Afghan government are enhanced, that the prospects of al Qaeda being able to attack the U.S. homeland are reduced."

The president in the last week has visited Dover Air Force Base to participate in the "dignified transfer" of troops killed in Afghansitan, and he has visited with wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He said such visits "absolutely" have an impact on his decision-making process because it "reminds me that -- these aren't abstractions. The decisions that we make in this White House have consequences for our long-term security and they also have consequences for the individuals who are being deployed."

He added that "as commander in chief, my job is not to just think in terms of one individual or short-term costs, but also what's required to prevent another 9/11, what's required to make sure that we're not seeing another USS Cole. And, you know, ultimately, when I make a decision, it's going to be based on the over arching view of U.S. national security. But I think I would be making poorer decisions if I didn't have to look into the eyes of a family member who had lost a loved one and tell them how grateful we are as a nation that -- that -- that moment, I think, ensures that I'm making the best possible decisions going forward."

Obama Looks at NY-23 Special Election as 'Important Signal' for Democrats

Obama said the main message he took from last week's election results – with Republicans winning gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia – was that Americans are "nervous, and they're worried and they're anxious."

"I don't think there's any denying the fact that people are worried out there," he said.

Obama said Democrat Bill Owens' victory in the special election in New York's 23rd congressional district, the one bright spot for the president's party last Tuesday, "sent an important signal."

"Bill Owens, the Democrat in a traditionally Republican district, a district that had been Republican for 100 years, did not shy away from saying he supported health insurance reform, that he supported the Recovery Act and the progress that we have made there, and ended up winning," Obama said.

Obama is also under increasing pressure to do more for the economy. The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 10.2 percent in October, the highest rate since 1983. The Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, released last Friday, was worse than expected, showing employers shed 190,000 jobs last month.

The president said today that the "main message" he took from last week's elections – in which Democrats won two House seats and Republicans won two gubernatorial races – "is that the American people are looking at over 10 percent unemployment and they're nervous and they're worried and they're anxious. And they want to make sure that the people here in Washington are fighting for them.

"I don't think there's any denying the fact that people are worried out there," he said. "And, you know, what I've said to fellow Democrats is let's get the job done on the health care bill that is so important to this country's long-term well-being, we can look back at the end of this year and I think we'll be able to legitimately say that we have had the most productive legislative session at least since 1965."

Said the president, "People have to be convinced that we understand the problem and that we're working on it. And if we do those things, then I think the American people will feel like we have been good and responsible stewards for an economy during some very difficult times."

The president was asked if independent voters who supported him in 2008 but overwhelmingly voted Republican in New jersey and Virginia were convinced he was fighting for them and working to create jobs.

"I think that they are convinced that I am doing everything I can," he said. "But they want to see results. And if they are not seeing results on the jobs front, which is the thing that people feel most acutely, most immediately -- their neighbors, their friends, themselves seeing their hours cut or their -- their jobs at risk, then, you know, they're going to hold me -- rightly -- responsible. And they're going to hold Congress appropriately responsible, and they're going to hold their respective governors responsible."

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