Home Uncategorized White House, top ally, feud over health goal

White House, top ally, feud over health goal

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The White House and one of its top allies in the US Congress feuded Tuesday over a target date for enacting President Barack Obama’s historic but embattled health care reform bill this month.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs stuck with his prediction that the House will vote on the sweeping legislation by March 18, when the president leaves for a week-long journey to Indonesia and Australia, calling it a “doable” time frame. “The information I gave out last week was based on conversations with staff that I had had here in the building. And I’ve been given nothing that would
change that advice that I was given last week,” Gibbs told reporters. But the number two House Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, rejected the “incorrect” premise that lawmakers would act by that date, stressing: “None of us have mentioned the 18th other than Mr Gibbs.”

“We are trying to do this as soon as possible. That continues to be our objective,” Hoyer told reporters. Hoyer also said “no decision” had been made about the best legislative path to approving the health care blueprint, which aims to extend coverage to at least 31 million Americans who currently lack it. And he played down prospects that Democrats could pay a heavy price for the
bill in November mid-term elections that will decide control of the US Congress, declaring “good policy is good politics.”Obama’s political operation placed more pressure on Democratic lawmakers, in a last-ditch effort to finally drive his top priority into law, a day after the president turned up the heat on predatory insurance firms.

“I don’t think it’s going to cost Democrats the House,” Gibbs told ABC News. “I think this will be an accomplishment that members can be proud of, not just in this election… but for decades to come.”In a bid to evade Republican blocking tactics, Obama wants the House to ditch legislation it approved in November and pass the Senate’s version of health care reform coupled with “fixes” to that bill. But the approach is high-risk as some conservative Democrats oppose it and others have a wary eye on the polls, with a third of senators and all of the House of Representatives up for reelection in November’s mid-term elections.

The stakes have long since risen above health care reform — as complicated as that is. Obama’s political authority and hopes for legacy as a reforming president are squarely on the line, in the biggest fight of his career. Many polls suggest Americans have turned against Obama’s health plans after a year of hardball politics and bickering over his signature reform effort, but aides believe that perceptions could change if the bill is finally passed. “It’ll be something that Democrats can be proud to run on in November,” Gibbs said.

With millions of Americans lacking coverage, Obama accused insurance giants Monday of cynically calculating that even if rate hikes cost them customers, they could rake in more cash through higher premiums on remaining plan holders. Republicans complain Obama’s plan would mean higher taxes and be partly paid for by cuts to government health care plans for elderly people. Obama counters that his approach would cut costs, expand access, rein in abuses by health care insurance firms and help reduce the rolls of more than 40 million people in America without health coverage. The United States is the world’s richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all its citizens.

Washington, March 9, 2010 (AFP)