July 20, 2009 -- Despite the newest poll showing sinking approval ratings on his handling of health care reform, President Barack Obama pressed on today with his message that health care reform was an urgent national priority.
"I want this done now. If there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town," he said in an interview with PBS.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, just under half, 49 percent, approve of his handling of health care, down 8 percent.
"It means what we're doing is hard," Obama said when asked about the poll. "There's a reason why this hasn't been done in 50 years. ... What the American people understand is that the status quo is unsustainable."
Yet, when asked whether he was confident Congress would reach agreement on a health care bill before its August recess, the president demurred.
"I am – I think this is actually a good example of where the focus tends to be on what we haven't gotten done yet rather than what we've done," he said.
Earlier today, Obama took direct aim at his critics on health care reform following a roundtable meeting at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Earlier today, President Obama took direct aim at his critics on health care reform following a roundtable meeting at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Referring to comments by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Friday that "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," the president responded: "This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy, and we can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care, not this time, not now."
The president also notched up his criticism against insurance companies, saying that "the current system works better for drug companies and insurance companies than for the American people," adding that "even as America's families have been battered by spiraling health care costs, health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system."
Obama was at the hospital to speak with doctors and nurses about the health care system.
The president, who is pushing his health care agenda in a series of events this week including a primetime news conference Wednesday, urged lawmakers to act quickly. He reiterated that he would not sign a bill that would contribute to the nation's deficit, as many critics has said the current legislation being discussed will.
"There's some in this town who are content to perpetuate the status quo, are, in fact, fighting reform on behalf of powerful special interests," he said. "There are others who recognize the problem, but believe or perhaps hope that we can put off the hard work of insurance reform for another day, another year, and another decade."
"We've talked this problem to death year after year but unless we act and act now, none of this will change," the president said.
The president is facing lukewarm approval on his health care reform efforts, and his goal to have health care reform enacted by August is growing more doubtful.
"It would be analogous to a Hail Mary pass in a football game," Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report told ABC News. "It increasingly looks virtually impossible."
Before today's White House health care roundtable and an afternoon statement from Obama, Republicans stepped up their counteroffensive, taking aim at the president and congressional Democrats, in speeches around Washington and in a 30-second advertisement opposing his plan for government-run health care.
Speaking at the National Press Club Monday morning, Republican chairman Michael Steele attacked the president for a health care proposal he described as "risky experimentation."
"Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions," Steele said.
Asked if Obama's health care plan represented socialism, Steele responded: "Yes."
Even officials at the Mayo Clinic, which the president has often touted as the model for quality health care, posted on the clinic's blog that the legislation under consideration in Congress is not focused on the patient.
"The proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite," the blog says. "Unless legislators create payment systems that pay for good patient results at reasonable costs, the promise of transformation in American health care will wither."
CBO Report Gives Boost to Opponents of President's Health Care Plan
With three weeks to go before Congress takes its month-long break, White House budget director Peter Orszag went on the defensive Sunday.
"Some are advocating delay only because they don't have anything better to bring to the table," Orszag told CNN.
Opponents of the president's plan got ammunition last week from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found the plan would leave millions uncovered and would not cut long-term costs as promised by the White House.
"We do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount and, on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs," the CBO's Douglas Elmendorf said last week.
Sebelius: Health Care Reform 'A Work in Progress'
On the Sunday morning talk-show circuit, the president's top health adviser conceded there's much more work to be done.
"This is a work in progress, and I think the House and Senate leaders share the president's goal that cost also come down," Kathleen Sibelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
In the Senate, even Democrats are dragging their feet.
"Our Democratic friends are having a hard time selling this to their own members, a very difficult time," Sibelius said on "Meet the Press."
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, expressed exasperation over the Senate's slow action.
"Sure, we wish we had more time. But the president has given us a deadline. We're working under it. Our committee has reported out a bill. We're waiting for the Senate to do -- what? Do anything," Rangel told CBS' "Face the Nation." "We have a deadline. We will meet it. The question is, what do we expect the other house to do? God only has the answer to that."
White House Pushes August Deadline on Health Care
The president has made it clear that he wants to see the Senate Finance Committee pass their version of health care reform by the end of the week.
The White House clearly believes that meeting the president's deadline is key to bringing in a health care bill he can sign.
"The deadline is artificial, but it does reflect a reality and the reality is the longer this drags out, the less likely that the president will get exactly what he wants and all that he wants," Rothenberg told ABC. "Look, there's still a very good chance that we're going to get a health care bill either later this year or a next year bill."
"There's going to be some sort of reform. I think most people believe, but in terms of the dramatic program, policy changes that the president wants, the longer this lasts the less likely that something dramatic is going to truly be passed and be signed," he said.
This week the president plans to launch a full-court press on health care reform, with an interview on PBS on Monday and a prime-time press conference on Wednesday, where health care reform is expected to be topic number one.