President Barack Obama delivers remarks on health care reform at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association, Monday, June 15, 2009 in Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama pushed back hard against Republican critics of his health care overhaul plan Monday, vowing to fight "the politics of the moment" but also giving ground on his tight timetable for passage of legislation.
"We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care," Obama said after meeting with doctors, nurses and other health care workers at Children's National Medical Center. "Not this time. Not now. There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake."
Without mentioning his critic by name, the president recounted South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's comment that stopping Obama's bid for health care overhaul could be the president's "Waterloo," a reference to the site of Napoleon's bitter defeat.
"This isn't about me," Obama responded. "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."
Striking a more populist tone than in past remarks, the president complained that "health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system."
He criticized those "fighting reform on behalf of powerful special interests" and others out to put off action for "another day, another year, another decade.
"Let's fight our way through the politics of the moment," Obama said. "Let's pass reform by the end of this year."
That reflects a shift in his repeated timetable. Obama had said previously that he wanted the House and Senate to vote on legislation before lawmakers leave town for their August recess, with a comprehensive bill for him to sign in October.
Obama spoke after the chairman of the Republican Party called the president's push for health care overhaul "socialism," and accused him of conducting a risky experiment that will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverage.
Michael Steele, in remarks at the National Press Club, also said the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and key congressional committee chairmen are part of a "cabal" that wants to implement government-run health care.
"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. Next question."
Obama has repeatedly said he does not favor a government-run health care system. Legislation taking shape in the House envisions private insurance companies selling coverage in competition with the government.
Obama is struggling to advance his trademark health care proposal after a period of evident progress. Two of three House committees have approved their portions of the bill, while one of two Senate panels have acted. A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday shows approval of Obama's handling of health care reform slipping below 50 percent for the first time. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The president, who spent most of last week making his plea for health care overhaul, was pressing his case hard again this week, first at the children's hospital, and later this week in a prime-time news conference Wednesday and a town hall in Ohio on Thursday.
Conservative Democrats have raised objections to some elements of the legislation, and efforts in the Senate to reach a bipartisan agreement have yet to bear fruit.
Pelosi is floating an idea that could make proposed tax increases more palatable to conservative Democrats. She would like to limit income tax increases to couples making more than $1 million a year and individuals making more than $500,000, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said Monday. The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee last week would increase taxes on couples making as little as $350,000 a year and individuals making as little as $280,000.
Pelosi wants to make up the lost revenue by getting health care providers to agree to additional cost savings, Daly said, though he did not have an estimate on how much additional savings would be needed.
The original tax proposal would raise $544 billion over the next decade. More than 90 percent of the money would come from couples making more than $1 million a year and individuals making more than $500,000, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. That means Pelosi would have to find just under $50 billion in additional savings.
Republican officials said they were supplementing Steele's speech with a round of television advertising designed to oppose government-run health care. The 30-second commercial, titled "Grand Experiment," criticizes recent government aid to the auto industry and banks as "the biggest spending spree in our history" and warns similarly of "a risky experiment with our health care."
Separately, the insurance industry, which challenged President Bill Clinton's health care effort in the early 1990s, launched a $1.4 million ad campaign, its first TV ads of this year's health care fight. The multimillion-dollar campaign, being aired nationally on cable stations, restates the industry's support for an overhaul that provides universal coverage and its offer to cover people who are already sick. The ad campaign does not mention the insurers' strong opposition to creating a government-run insurance option.
An official disclosed the cost of the campaign on condition of anonymity as the numbers have not been made public.