WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of urging lawmakers to embrace his health care agenda, President Barack Obama took his case back to the road Thursday as the public’s qualms about the plan seem to be growing.
In his comments Wednesday and at scheduled events Thursday in Cleveland, the president spoke directly to families about their pocketbook and medical concerns, urging them to ignore political opportunists and naysayers in order to achieve sweeping changes, which previous administrations could not attain.
“If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket,” Obama said Wednesday night, looking past the dozens
of reporters assembled for his White House news conference and peering straight into the TV cameras. “If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.”
On Thursday in Ohio, the president will undertake two more events focused on health care, the issue dominating his administration even as the economy still suffers and wars continue in Iraq and Afghanistan. For his supporters, Obama’s stepped-up pace is coming not a second too soon.
For all his efforts, which have included public statements each weekday for the past few weeks, Republican lawmakers and other critics sense momentum building against Obama’s plan. They particularly cite nonpartisan cost projections that have not predicted the savings the White House promises.
“What I heard last night was a president that seems somewhat frustrated that people do not understand what this government health care plan is all about,”
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think people still have a lot of questions about what a (new) health care plan means for them and their families.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another leading Republican, said on CBS’s “The Early Show” that he “liked a lot of what he (Obama) had to say last night.”
“I think he’s actually … his marketing is the best part of this,” Jindal added. “You listen to what the president said. He said he does not want to increase the deficit, does not want government control of healthcare. He wants people to keep their insurance. He wants to crack down on the abuse, the over-utilization. All that’s great. The problem is, that’s not what’s in the House Democrat bill.”
The number of Americans who disapprove of the president’s health care plan has jumped to 43 percent, compared with 28 percent in April, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. Obama still holds a strong hand, with most Americans favorable to him in general, and half supporting his health care agenda.
But it’s the negative trend that worries his supporters, and some want the president to be even more forceful and visible in pushing his top domestic priority.
“He’s the great communicator,” said Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a moderate Democrat who wants lower costs but supports the overall thrust of Obama’s efforts. “If anybody can explain this, he can.”
“The White House needs to assert more authority,” said Cooper, who has focused on health care for years. “I’ll be relieved when they take over the marketing of this, because Congress has done a terrible job.”
It’s hard for Obama, or anyone, to succinctly advocate health care changes just now because multiple versions are slowly moving through the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
“The case has not been made” for a particular version because the eventual legislation is unclear, said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala. With critics seizing on the confusion to attack the Democratic proposals’ costs, enhanced government role and uncertain benefits, Davis said Wednesday, the administration soon must decide whether to accept a partial victory that might leave room for a later push for the rest.
For now, Obama keeps insisting on all the major elements of his far-reaching proposal and warning of dire consequences if they are not enacted.
He cited a Colorado woman with cancer that her insurance company would not cover. He referred to a “middle-class college graduate from Maryland whose health insurance expired when he changed jobs.” He used the word “families” 22 times in 55 minutes.
Associated Press writer M.R. Kropko in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Photo: President Barack Obama