HENDERSON, NEV. Days before hosting an intensive health care summit with both Republicans and Democrats, President Barack Obama made a fervent push for his overhaul, calling it critical not just for the millions without insurance but for the entire country’s economic well-being.
“It is vital for our economy to change how health care works in this country,” Obama said Friday at a town hall meeting in a high school gym. “Don’t let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country.”
The president’s plea for his top domestic priority, which faces an uncertain fate after nearly a year of work in Congress, earned him huge applause. He said the drawn-out effort has cost him politically, and also has undercut the standing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Obama was in Nevada to help the Senate leader survive a tough re-election fight this year — a race that could have a big impact on the balance of power in Washington and the fate of Obama’s own proposals on health care and beyond. Obama needs to protect every vote he can in the Senate if his own agenda is to succeed.
“Health care has been knocking me around pretty good,” Obama said. “It’s been knocking Harry around pretty good.”
But the president suggested that was due more to misinformation about the plans than to general unpopularity of the overhaul, and he defended the Democratic bills that have passed both houses of Congress, but have not been reconciled into one piece of legislation.
The president’s bipartisan summit is taking place Thursday. He dared Republicans to present a proposal addressing the uninsured and rising medical costs, rather than merely saying no to Democratic approaches.
But the summit approaches with hardly a feeling of cooperation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama and the Democrats are offering “a partisan bill devoid of support from the American people.”
Reid’s Washington office said the senator will support allowing the government to sell health insurance in competition with private insurers if the White House and Democratic leaders decide to push a health bill with no GOP backing.
Many conservatives and some moderates oppose the so-called public option. It’s in the bill the House passed last year, but not the Senate version. Some congressional Democrats say they doubt the White House will include a public option in the proposal it will unveil Monday.
The seven questions Obama took focused heavily on health care and the economy, giving the president an opportunity to dig into his standard talking points on those topics and to link the two issues.
During the appearance, the president also announced a $1.5 billion boost in public money to help people struggling to afford their mortgages to keep their homes, targeting the five states, led by Nevada, that have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.
“Government alone can’t solve this problem,” Obama said. “But government can make a difference.” It was the latest move by a White House determined to show it is helping families rebound from a deep recession that is taking an election-year toll on Obama and his party. The money for the new rescue effort will come from the $700 billion financial industry bailout program.