Obama spotlights healthcare launch as Republicans try to block it
WASHINGTON Oct 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is due to lead officials spotlighting the opening day sign-up on Tuesday for his landmark healthcare program even as staunch Republican opposition to the plan shut down government operations.
Obama is scheduled to meet and pose for pictures in the Oval Office with a group of people who stand to benefit from the healthcare law's provisions, while an interview with Vice President Joe Biden promoting the plan will air on 450 college radio stations in critical states, the administration said.
The president's focus on the first day of online enrollment in the health insurance plans that are at the heart of the law comes as Congress failed on Monday to pass spending bills to fund government operations in the fiscal year that begins on Tuesday.
The Republican-led House of Representatives would only agree to budget bills that delayed implementation of the health law requirement that individuals buy health insurance, which the president and his fellow Democrats rejected.
As a result, all but essential government operations were set to grind to a halt on Tuesday. White House Budget Office Director Sylvia Burwell directed federal agencies to prepare for "an orderly shutdown in the absence of appropriations."
The appearances by top White House figures come as the Affordable Care Act kicks into the critical phase of sign-up for health insurance through on-line exchanges that allow individuals to shop for policies that suit their needs and pocketbooks.
The administration needs to attract a large contingent of healthy young adults to keep coverage costs low and has focused much of its publicity on appealing to that demographic.
Michelle Obama will target women with an editorial appearing on Yahoo! Shine, a women's lifestyle website. White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and other administration officials will do interviews with radio stations reaching largely African-American audiences, the White House said.
The Obama administration is accelerating its push to persuade individuals to sign up for health insurance as a six-month sign-up period begins.
The rollout presents a sharp contrast to concerted efforts by conservative Republican lawmakers to block or delay the law, widely referred to as Obamacare.
Congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives but are in a minority in the Senate, have also said they would demand cuts or delays to the health law in exchange for approving an increase in the nation's $16.7 trillion borrowing cap.
While the administration argues the law has been on the books for three years, was thoroughly debated in the presidential election that Obama won in 2012, and has been upheld in part by the Supreme Court, Republicans say the law is costing jobs and raising health care costs and is an example of government over-reach.
In a separate fiscal issue that Republicans hope will provide leverage in their efforts to derail Obamacare, the Treasury Department expects to bump up against the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in mid-October.
While the government shutdown is expected to slow economic growth as a result of the lost income and productivity of federal workers, among other factors, failure to raise the debt cap is seen as having far more damaging repercussions.
Most economists and financial market participants warn that a debt default would plunge the U.S. economy back into recession and destabilize the global economy, where U.S. debt has been considered a rock-solid investment.
Obama has refused to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, and the failure of the Democrats and Republicans to avoid a government shutdown points to a difficult path to compromise on raising the debt limit.