President Obama gives a fist-bump to a supporter after speaking Thursday… (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated…)
Reporting from Los Angeles and Portland, Maine — President Obama took to the road Thursday, telling an audience in Maine that the passage of the healthcare overhaul showed his administration's commitment to small businesses and the struggling middle class.
With polls showing that healthcare remains a divisive issue in this midterm election year, Obama argued that the overhaul was part of a package of changes needed to help the middle class work its way out of a devastating recession.
"I want you to know that we are working every day to spur job creation and turn this economy around," Obama told the cheering crowd. "That's why we worked so hard over the last year to lift one of the biggest burdens facing middle-class families and small-business owners -- the crushing cost of healthcare in America."
Last week, Obama signed the healthcare measure into law, capping more than a year of partisan fighting. No Republicans voted for the final passage in either the House or Senate, and the GOP has vowed to make healthcare a centerpiece of its campaign to recapture control of Congress.
Thursday's trip was Obama's second outside Washington to convince Americans that the healthcare law was needed and should be supported. Last week, he traveled to Iowa, making many of the same arguments he repeated in Portland, Maine.
"What this reform represents is basically a middle-of-the-road solution to a very serious problem," Obama said.
"This reform incorporates ideas from both Democrats and Republicans, including, by the way, from your senator and my friend, Olympia J. Snowe, who spent many hours meeting with me about this bill," Obama said.
Democrats had hoped to woo Maine's two GOP senators, generally seen as less conservative than their colleagues, but failed to sway either Snowe or Sen. Susan Collins.
Both senators rejected an invitation to appear with the president, White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One en route to New England.
Obama said it would take four years for the overhaul to be fully implemented but that some provisions would kick in quickly. Those include ending insurance company practices of using preexisting conditions as an excuse to curb benefits and lifting annual caps on payments. He also mentioned the help seniors will receive to buy medications, filling Medicare's so-called doughnut hole in drug benefits.
The president also stressed the advantages for small-business owners. Businesses that have 25 or fewer employees will receive tax credits this year if they provide health insurance. Those credits increase by 2014, with 4 million small businesses benefiting, according to the White House.
In 2014, companies with up to 100 employees will be able to buy insurance through the newly created exchanges. The idea is to give small businesses the same purchasing power as larger ones.
As he has throughout the healthcare battles, Obama noted the GOP's hostility to Democratic efforts.
"There has been plenty of fear-mongering, lot of overheated rhetoric," Obama said. "If you turn on the news, you'll see that those same folks who were hollering about it before it passed are still hollering about how the world will end because we passed this bill."
"So after I signed the bill, I looked around," the president said to cheers and laughter. "I looked up to the sky to see if asteroids were coming. I looked to the ground to see if cracks had opened up in the earth. You know what? It turned out to be a pretty nice day. Birds were still chirping. Folks were strolling down the street. Nobody lost their doctor. Nobody had pulled the plug on Granny. Nobody was being forced into some government plan."
Obama also did not spare the media, an increasingly available target for a White House upset with what it has called the Washington echo chamber.
"You have to love some of the pundits in Washington. Every single day since I signed the reform law, there's been another poll or headline that says, 'Nation still divided on health reform. Polls haven't changed yet,' " Obama said.
"Well, yeah. It's just happened last week. It's only been a week," he said.
"Before we find out if people like healthcare reform, maybe we should wait to see what happens when we actually put it into place," he said. "Just a thought."