Obama Points Finger at GOP Leadership on Health Care

Acknowledges Democrats may get health care overhaul without minority party.

Aug. 20, 2009— -- While continuing to argue he wants a bipartisan bill, President Barack Obama today, for the first time, publicly blamed congressional Republican leaders for seeing health care overhaul in only political terms. And he also acknowledged for the first time that Democrats might go it alone.

Before a crowd of loyal Democrats this afternoon in Washington, D.C., Obama said his party would do whatever it takes to pass health care reform -- with or without Republicans.

"My commitment to the American people is to get a good product, which will include Republican ideas, but I have no control over what the other side decides is their political strategy," the president said in a forum with Organizing for America volunteers at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. "And my obligation to the American people says: We're going to get this done one way or another."

Obama gave credit to the three Republican senators (Charles Grassley of Iowa, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mike Enzi of Wyoming) who are continuing negotiations with Democrats for a bill, noting the "enormous pressure" they are under "not to engage in any kind of negotiations at all."

The president indicated patience in reaching compromise but "at some point in the process, there's going to have to be a conclusion that either they can get a bill done or they can't get a bill done," he said.

Earlier today, in a radio interview, the president, for the first time, publicly accused Republican leaders of trying to kill health care overhaul for political reasons

"I think, early on, a decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, 'Look, let's not give them a victory. Maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94 when Clinton came in. He failed on health care and then we won on the mid-term elections. And we got the majority.'" Obama said. "And I think there are some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook."

The president had previously said some Republicans viewed health care overhaul that way, but today was the first time he identified Republican leaders in the House and Senate of thinking that way.

Obama Criticized for Mix Message on Health Care

The president continues to say he wants a bipartisan bill and White House officials have said that they are not going to short-circuit the process if there is time left on the clock.

Bipartisan negotiations in the Senate continue but one of the key Republicans practically pleaded today for more outreach by the White House to the minority on the Hill.

"The White House should be leading and trying to get 70 to 80 votes for anything as important as health care reform is," Grassley said in an interview with ABC News. "Instead of worrying about blaming one party or another."

Grassley said he told Obama that "bipartisanship is not just three or four."

With Congress out of town for its August recess, some major sticking points with Republicans and some Democrats still linger, including whether the legislation should include a government-run public insurance option, how the legislation will be paid for and how it will actually bring down health care costs.

Grassley faulted the White House for sending mixed messages, most recently on whether the president continued to believe health care legislation should include a public option.

"We need a White House with a constant position on these issues," he said.

Democrats say they do not have the votes in the Senate for a public option, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls the public option crucial.

"There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option," the speaker said.

To move past this, some in the White House and Congress are talking about splitting the bill into two parts in the Senate, to try to lure Republican votes for the less controversial measures.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the House Majority Whip, also stood by the need for a public option but told ABC News he's leaning toward pushing a more modest bill.

"We are not going to have complete reform of our health care system until we have a public option, I believe that very strongly," Clyburn said. "Now, the question is, do we have to have it tomorrow morning?"

Plenty at Stake on Health Care

And what about those liberals and progressives who point out that the Democrats control the House and Senate with significant majorities and should fight for everything they can get?

"We're fighting for everything we can get, the question is how much we can get right now and how much we need to come back for later on," Clyburn said.

One fear for all the Democrats was expressed today by the leader of a major union and close ally of the president's.

"I think if health care reform dies, the Democrat majority in Congress dies with it," said Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union. "It's hard to imagine the Democrats convincing the public that Republicans are to blame for health care reform going down when the Democrats have such large majorities. ... After last year's promise of change, voters will start feeling buyer's remorse."

Obama said today passing a bill like this, with so many opinions, possibilities and sides, was "always messy."

ABC News' Teddy Davis contributed to this report.