WASHINGTON President Barack Obama broadened his pitch for healthcare reform on Thursday with an appeal to business leaders, some of whom have criticized his efforts to overhaul the multibillion-dollar industry.
He spoke to a crowd that included owners of small businesses and officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobbying group that has opposed him on issues including healthcare, taxes and climate change.
The White House said the event was an opportunity for Obama to meet small business owners to discuss his healthcare overhaul and his proposals to improve small business access to credit to boost job creation.
Obama noted that the U.S. economy grew 3.5 percent in the third quarter, after four consecutive quarters of decline, but said the economy still has a long way to go and acknowledged the problems that businesses have had.
"But I don't have to tell all of you that it's been particularly difficult over the past few years," he said.
However, if the United States is serious about strengthening small business, it must pass health insurance reform, Obama said.
"Few have a bigger stake in what happens than all of you. Few have a bigger stake than the men and women who own a small business, work at a small business, or rely on someone who does," he said.
Obama has made healthcare reform his top domestic priority and has vowed to get it through the U.S. Congress before the end of the year.
OBAMA SAYS PREMIUMS COULD DROP
He disputed arguments that reform plans would increase costs for small businesses, and said premiums could drop by 25 percent.
The audience included about 50 business owners who were members of the Chamber of Commerce and several executives from the chamber's office in Washington, a spokesman for the lobbying group said.
Obama pulled no punches earlier this month when he attacked the chamber for opposing his plans for a new consumer protection agency, saying it was spending millions of dollars on false advertising "to kill it."
He said the chamber had spent nearly half a billion dollars on lobbying over the last 10 years.
The chamber, which says it represents 3 million large and small businesses, opposes the administration's push for climate legislation and has not supported Obama's efforts to revamp financial regulation.
It has also launched television commercials on cable television to fight the so-called "public option" -- a government-run healthcare insurance program that some companies say will drive up costs for employers and workers.
However, the group said it is working with the administration on several matters. "We do have a laundry list of issues that we work with them on toward job creation," said a chamber spokesman. "There's pretty regular interactions between the groups."
A senior adviser to Obama, Valerie Jarrett, told Reuters last week the White House wanted to work with the chamber but that it had a broader view of who spoke for the business community.
(Editing by Chris Wilson)