Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Obama rejects criticism on health-care reform legislation"

President Obama rejected in an interview Tuesday the criticism that he has compromised too much in order to secure health-care reform legislation, challenging his critics to identify any "gap" between what he campaigned on last year and what Congress is on the verge of passing.
"Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill," Obama said in an Oval Office interview with The Washington Post about his legislative record this year. "Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill."

As the Senate prepares to pass its version of health-care reform, Obama has come under sharp criticism for the size and shape of the legislation, including most recently from the left wing of his own party.

Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, for one, has said he would prefer that the Democrat-controlled Senate defeat the bill rather than have what he considers to be weak legislation pass into law.

In the interview, Obama offered a vigorous defense of the legislation and the priorities he set out in shaping it, saying he is "not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved."

He said the Senate legislation accomplishes "95 percent" of what he called for during his 2008 presidential campaign and in his September speech to a joint session of Congress on the need for health-care reform.

In listing those priorities, Obama cited the 30 million uninsured Americans projected to receive coverage, budget estimates of more than $1 trillion in savings over the next two decades, a "patients' bill of rights on steroids" to protect consumers from being dropped by insurance companies, and tax breaks to help small businesses pay to cover employees.

Those elements are in the House and Senate versions of health-care legislation, whose competing elements will have to be reconciled in conference committee early next year. The House bill includes a public option, the government-run plan favored by Dean and other progressive Democrats, but the Senate version leaves it out.

Obama said the public option "has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right." But, he added, "I didn't campaign on the public option."

"We don't feel that the core elements to help the American people have been compromised in any significant way," Obama said. "Do these pieces of legislation have exactly everything I want? Of course not. But they have the things that are necessary to reduce costs for businesses, families and the government."

Obama used the interview to outline his legislative achievements this year, a record dominated by the $787 billion stimulus measure passed in February and the eight-month health-care debate. But his record also includes a number of lesser-known measures.

Those include bills to ensure equal pay across gender lines, an expansion of hate-crime legislation and children's health insurance, stronger tobacco regulation, military procurement reform, and consumer credit-card protections.

Together, he said, these bills, many of which are highly popular among his party's left wing, "will make life better for many Americans."

On taking office in the midst of a severe financial crisis, Obama, a former U.S. senator whose senior staff includes many Hill veterans, settled on a legislative strategy that departed from those of his predecessors.

He decided that, rather than pursue big pieces of legislation one at a time, his administration would seek health-care reform, a cap-and-trade bill, financial reform legislation and other measures simultaneously.

"In some ways, we just didn't have an option," Obama said. "Because of the financial crisis, we had to make a series of decisions that, back in 2007 when my presidential campaign began, were not at the top of our list."

"What I thought was very important not to do was further delay work on some of the big-ticket items that I had been elected to achieve and that were critical for our long-term economic growth," he continued.

Obama said he "could have put off" health-care reform, adding that "there are some people who would say that wouldn't be such a bad thing -- the opponents of reform."

But he said delaying on that issue, which has been tied to the country's future fiscal and financial health, would have continued the "double-digit" rise in health-care costs and increase the burden on businesses paying for employee coverage.

"Given how difficult fighting the special interest has been on Capitol Hill, it's clear that, if we hadn't decided to make a bold step forward this year, we probably wouldn't have had the political capital to get it done in the future," he said. "Sooner or later we had to take that on, even though we knew it would be politically difficult."

But Obama acknowledged that cap-and-trade legislation and financial reform -- bills the House passed this year but the Senate did not -- would carry over into the mid-term election year when political calculations always slow down measures before Congress.

"I think there's no doubt that energy legislation is going to be tough," Obama said. "But I feel very confident in making an argument to the American people that we should be a leader in clean energy technology, that that will be one of the key elements that will drive growth for years to come."

Howie P.S.: Naomi Klein takes Obama to task for missing three Blown Opportunities "to transform the US into something that doesn't threaten the stability of life on this planet."

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