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Obama talks tough in urging healthcare reform

The president calls for quick action and criticizes attempts to delay as a move to kill reform. Critics say: What's the rush?

July 22, 2009|Christi Parsons

WASHINGTON — Urging lawmakers to move quickly to overhaul American healthcare, President Obama on Tuesday criticized the "politics of the moment" and said some in Congress were trying to put off decisions on legislation "until special interests can kill it."

Speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden, Obama said: "We can choose to follow that playbook again, and then we'll never get over the goal line. Or we can come together and insist that this time it will be different. We can choose action over inaction."

The remarks were part of a White House blitz to promote the president's healthcare agenda this week, a strategy that also includes television interviews, a prime-time news conference today and a Thursday town hall in Cleveland.

A poll released Tuesday provided a sense of the battle Obama is facing. By 50% to 44%, Americans disapprove of how the president is handling healthcare policy, the USA Today/Gallup poll found.

But the White House had been selling the president's popularity on Capitol Hill, reassuring lawmakers that he will help those who support his top domestic priority. Obama has said he wants a healthcare bill passed before the August congressional recess.

Some of his critics, however, have speculated that a failure to pass healthcare soon could weaken Obama as he fights for other priorities.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, took aim at Obama's argument Tuesday, asking why the administration was rushing to action on one of the most complicated elements of the American economy.

"Why this rush to get a healthcare bill signed or at least passed before the August recess?" Steele asked. "The way the administration is going about it is not appropriate to me."

The path forward is by no means clear.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) delayed his panel's hearings on healthcare until today, after a private meeting between the committee's Democrats and Obama.

Two other House panels have approved a healthcare bill, but Waxman is working to garner support among colleagues on his committee.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign to fight "government-run healthcare," its characterization of the plan Obama favors. The chamber's Campaign for Responsible Health Reform is running print and online ads and inundating key members of Congress with letters and protest calls.

At his Rose Garden appearance, Obama attacked the "familiar Washington script" of inertia over action. He outlined the common ground among several bills now making their way through Congress, arguing that lawmakers had agreed on a range of features -- including a public healthcare option and guaranteed coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

"Make no mistake," Obama said. "We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need. . . . Americans don't care who is up or down in Washington politics. The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable."

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cparsons@latimes.com

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