June 23, 2009 -- President Barack Obama today defended his wide-ranging health care plan and said he is confident of passing health care reform, but he stopped short of saying that he would veto any plan that does not include the widely pilloried "public option" he has been pushing.
"We have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are under-insured," the president said at a White House press conference.
Pressed on the question of whether a public plan is non-negotiable, the president said that it was not, at least not yet.
"You know, those are the broad parameters that we've discussed. There are a whole host of other issues where ultimately I may have a strong opinion, and I will express those to members of Congress as this is shaping up. It's too early to say that. Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense."
Tune in to Diane Sawyer's interview with President Obama on "Good Morning America" Wednesday, June 24, at 7:00 a.m. ET
The public option system has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, but Obama refused to say whether it was a necessary element in the legislation that he would sign. He said it was "not logical" to think that a public option would drive the private insurance industry into the ground.
"If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical," he said.
Obama also seemed to back off from his promise that people who like their health care plans will be able to keep them under his plan for reform, and instead of saying that "no one" will take away any American's health insurance, today he said only that the government would not do so.
ABC News asked how the president could make such a guarantee if the public-run plan was cheaper, thus possibly enticing employers to enroll employees in that plan.
"When I say if you have your plan and you like it, ... or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, that you don't have to change plans, what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform," the president said.
This was a shift from what the president said just last week, when he told a gathering of the nation's doctors, "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what."
Obama Says Health Care Plan Not Too Expensive
Today, Obama pinned the possible changes on employers, who may adjust their health care plans due to costs, and maintained that the government will not be the force behind the changes.
"I can guarantee you that there's the possibility for a whole lot of Americans out there that they're not going to end up having the same health care they have," he said. "Because what's going to happen is, as costs keep on going up, employers are going to start making decisions. We've got to raise premiums on our employees. In some cases, we can't provide health insurance at all."
Obama aimed a message squarely at his critics who say his reform proposals will cost too much but did not provide a detailed plan for where the money comes from.
"This is legislation that will be paid for. It will not add to our deficits over the next decade. We will find the money through savings and efficiencies within the health care system -- some of which we've already announced," he said.
Obama Offers Strongest Statement on Iran
Obama started off the news conference with a 10-minute prepared statement that addressed Iran, energy legislation and health care.
He issued his strongest statement yet on the recent violence in Iran, deploring the loss of innocent civilian life and condemning what he called "unjust actions" taken by the government there.
"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days," he said. "I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost."
Amid criticism from Republicans who say he has not offered strong enough backing of the protests of the contested Iranian election, Obama today repeatedly stressed that the United States respects Iran's sovereignty and does not want to meddle it its affairs but acknowledged the "courage and dignity" of the Iranian people.
Obama called energy legislation making its way through the House "historic" and said it will "transform the way we produce and use energy in America."
Obama pinned the legislation's price tag on the "the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air we breathe."
"It is legislation that will finally spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet," he said.
The president also stood by his statement that the nation's unemployment will end up going over 10 percent and said that jobs are a lagging indicator of economic recovery.
He said he does not see a need for a second stimulus package because he wants to see how effective the first one can be, which he credited with stabilizing the economy.
"In the absence of the stimulus, I think our recession would be much worse. It would have declined," he said. "Without the Recovery Act, we know for a fact that states, for example, would have laid off a lot more teachers, a lot more police officers. And a lot more firefighters."
Is the Honeymoon Over?
Obama continues to enjoy high approval ratings, but his policies may not be as popular. An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 65 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance. But less than half of those polled, 47 percent, feel the country is not headed in the right direction, making it the first time since Obama's election that views of the country's course have not improved.
Americans also seem to be losing faith in the $787 billion stimulus. The number of people who believe the federal stimulus will help the economy fell to 52 percent, down from 59 percent in late April, and 19 percent said they feel it would hurt the economy.
With the health care debate ramping up, with Republicans assailing Democrats for the high price tag and a public option plan, Obama's ratings on the subject also slipped slightly. Only 53 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of health care while 39 percent disapprove of it, up from 29 percent in April.
In his first non-primetime press conference, Obama upped his rhetoric considerably on Iran, and also lashed out at Republican critics in Congress for not understanding his position. According to the poll, 61 percent of Americans approve of the president's work in international affairs, which is down slightly from April, and 52 percent approve of his approach to Iran.
Overall though, despite the slight slip in ratings, the president and his party enjoy more support than the GOP. Only 36 percent of Americans now have a favorable view of the Republican party, and more Americans trust Obama on key issues such as the economy and health care.