President Obama took his push to overhaul health care to a national audience Wednesday night, but he gave little assurance that Congress would agree to a plan before its August recess.
With a voice of urgency, Obama said that if nothing is done, health care costs will double in the next decade and more Americans will lose their coverage. He again tried to lay out how the overhaul of health care fits into his broader economic strategy. But what the president didn’t do is convince the public that reform is on the way, analysts said. Obama had given Congress a deadline of August for sending him a health care bill. He backed off such a firm due date this week, saying, “We will do it this year.” Asked Wednesday if he’s worried that the effort will collapse if there’s a delay until the fall, Obama said, “If you don’t set deadlines in this town, things don’t happen.” Watch Obama push for an overhaul » “The default position is inertia, because doing something always creates some people who are unhappy. There’s always going to be some interest out there that decides, ‘You know what The status quo is working for me a little bit better,’ ” he said. David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN, said there’s a “real fear” in the White House that if nothing is done before the August recess, “support will start to crumble.”
Will Obama’s health care plan mirror 1994 Clinton failure
Obama takes health care push to prime time
“In some ways, I think tonight was a holding action to hold the public in place,” he said. “It is pivotal to his presidency. It’s his single most important domestic initiative. He didn’t run to fix the economy — he inherited that. But he ran to fix health care.” Republican critics such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani agreed that health care reform is a major priority, but he said it’s not something that should be done in haste. Giuliani said reform is “one of the most important things we can do, which is why we have to do it right and why it shouldn’t be rushed. If the plan is such a good plan … it can stand the test of time. I don’t understand this big rush to try to get it done. This is a very complicated thing,” he said. As Obama pushes back against critics of his health care plan, a national poll out Tuesday indicates that half the country disapproves of how he’s handling the issue. Forty-four percent of those questioned in the survey approve of how Obama’s dealing with health care, while 50 percent do not, according to the USA Today/Gallup Poll. James Carville, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, said Obama’s prime-time appeal probably wasn’t much of a game-changer. “Honestly, I doubt if you’re going to see the numbers move. You’ll see the numbers really move a lot, if he succeeds, and he’ll do a lot better. If he fails, it will be a lot worse than 50 [percent] disapprove,” he said. “I don’t know if one press conference is going to change anything. I’ve said all along I thought this was like an NBA game midway in the third quarter. Tune in when there’s three minutes left to go, and it will be fast and furious.” Republican strategist and CNN contributor Bay Buchanan argued that Obama hurt himself with what she considered a “rambling” news conference. “I really looked at this objectively because he is a very fine communicator, and this is a strong suit of his, to get out there and sell a policy. I thought it was somewhat rambling, anecdotal defense of a really major policy,” Buchanan said. “It was hard to keep your mind focused as he went on and on in a lot of details. I don’t think it was compelling or convincing, and so I think he hurt himself tonight because I think they really needed a real push, at least to stop the erosion of public support.” Obama on Thursday will forge ahead with his health care push. Following up on his news conference, the president takes his case to the road, touring the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and then hosting a town hall meeting on health care at a local high school. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Wednesday she intends to move forward with a health care vote this summer and indicated Democrats may keep the House in session past its scheduled summer break if needed.
Pelosi said that leaders were making progress responding to demands from conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats who have vowed to block legislation from passing a key committee unless major changes are made. But Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, a leading Blue Dog negotiator on the committee, issued a statement Wednesday that seemed to lower expectations a bit: “We are making progress; however, we have a long way to go,” Ross said.