Obama plots a comeback course on health scheme

2009-09-05 10:57

IN ONE fell swoop, President Barack Obama must regain the public’s

attention on healthcare, explain in detail exactly what he wants in a final

deal, unify a restless Democratic Party, remind Congress to get him a bill and

bring clarity to a bewildering debate. Indeed, vacation time is over.

Obama’s decision to give a prime-time speech to Congress on

Wednesday underscores the stakes for a president, and even a young

presidency.

He’s got to get a law passed in a form that would genuinely help

millions of people with their health insurance without having the liberals in

his party rebel against him.

The White House signalled on Thursday that it remained open to

compromises necessary to get a deal through Congress.

“There are fundamental principles that he believes in,” Obama’s

senior adviser David Axelrod said. “He’s not dogmatic about how we get

there.”

Yet liberals are concerned this means Obama will dilute the bold

healthcare proposals he campaigned for, particularly the inclusion of a

government-run insurance plan. And they are letting him know it. In just one

example, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, consisting of 83 liberal

lawmakers, sent Obama a letter on Thursday saying a health bill “without a

robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so

desperately needs. We cannot vote for anything less”.

This idea slams up against overwhelming GOP (Grand Old Party –

Republican Party) opposition and the reservations of many centrist congressional

Democrats eyeing their next election.

So the responsibility is back on Obama, who ­opted to let Congress

discuss the details and hold out for pragmatic bipartisanship, approaches that

stalled and in some ways backfired. After all, he is the one who promised

repeatedly that a healthcare overhaul would pass this year.

So after keeping out of the spotlight on the matter for some weeks,

Obama wants to come back big.

He chose the largest forum any president can grab: the grand stage

of an address to Congress.

In his favour, the move gives Obama something he had lost from the

public: sheer anticipation of what he is going to say.

There had been a stretch in the summer period when President Obama

was talking nearly every day on healthcare. The debate got bogged down in messy

legislative details and media coverage of ­angry, if unrepresentative, town

halls.

Now the White House is promising that Obama will offer more

specific proposals and direction.

Since the beginning of June, Obama has given 25 speeches and

statements on his healthcare plan alone, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News,

who keeps a detailed log of presidential activities.

Meanwhile, Obama’s approval rating has ­eroded. A CBS News poll

from late August found just 40% of people supported his handling of healthcare.


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