Obama tries to regain momentum in healthcare debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama appealed to Americans on Saturday to back his ambitious revamp of the U.S. health care system, seeking to regain momentum amid growing worries among lawmakers over how to pay for it.

Trading on his personal popularity, Obama has gone on the offensive to try to persuade doubters and face down critics of his more than $1 trillion plan to set up a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

The Democratic president used his weekly radio address to again call upon lawmakers, including skeptics within his own party, to “seize this opportunity -- one we might not have again for generations -- and finally pass health insurance reform this year, in 2009.”

Obama sought to frame the debate in terms of the country’s very economic survival, saying the issue affected “the stability of our entire economy.”

Reforming the United States’ $2.5 trillion health care industry is Obama’s signature domestic issue, but he is running out of time to get the enabling legislation passed this year. A delay to 2010, a congressional election year, could make it harder to win a final deal.

This week, the legislation advanced in key committees in Congress, but Obama was dealt a blow when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said his plans would not contain the spiraling costs of government health programs.

The administration quickly rejected this, saying the CBO had failed to take into account the savings that would be achieved through separate legislation.

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But the CBO’s comments were seized upon by Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats concerned at the price tag for the overhaul as the country battles through its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s.


Republicans charge the massive new spending and “job-killing taxes” in Obama’s plan threatens the country’s economic recovery.

“With a shaky economy and the need for new jobs, the last thing the president and the Congress should do is impose new taxes on America’s small businesses,” Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl said in the party’s weekly radio address.

“New taxes on small business would cripple job creation, especially jobs for low-wage earners. It would empower Washington, not doctors and patients, to make health care decisions and would impose a new tax on working families during a recession,” Kyl said.

Obama said this was not true. “I want to be very clear: I will not sign on to any health plan that adds to our deficits over the next decade.”

He said opponents of healthcare reform “warn that this is all some big plot for socialized medicine, or government-run health care with long lines and rationed care. That’s not true either.”

“I don’t believe that government can or should run health care. But I also don’t think insurance companies should have free rein to do as they please,” he said.

Seeking to control the healthcare debate and get his message across to the American people, Obama plans to hold a White House news conference next week. He also plans to travel to Cleveland on Thursday to spotlight healthcare reform.

Editing by Todd Eastham