WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama accused his critics on Saturday of resorting to “outlandish rumors” and “misleading information” aimed at derailing his efforts to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.
Obama struck back at conservative opponents as lawmakers returned home for their August break facing an increasingly rancorous battle over his top domestic legislative priority. A deal on healthcare has yet to be struck in Congress.
“As we draw close to finalizing — and passing — real health insurance reform, the defenders of the status quo and political point-scorers in Washington are growing fiercer in their opposition,” Obama said, without naming names, in his weekly radio and Internet address.
“Some have been using misleading information to defeat what they know is the best chance of reform we have ever had,” Obama said, adding it was critical for Americans to have all the facts as they meet their lawmakers in home districts.
Obama adviser David Axelrod has coached Democrats in the Senate, where the party has a majority, on how to deal with angry opponents of the healthcare proposals during the month long recess.
Obama’s aides and fellow Democrats have charged that protests staged at some “town hall”-style meetings held by congressional Democrats have been orchestrated by Republican- and industry-backed groups and conservative talk-show hosts, and are calling for a more civil dialogue.
Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia took aim at this White House move.
“When no one is listening to them, sometimes people have to speak up,” Price said in a statement released on Saturday.
“Rather than listening to the concerns of those who will face the consequences of the legislation, the White House has laughed off the thought that Americans might have sincere concerns about a plan that relies so heavily on government involvement in health care.”
Obama’s push for healthcare reform, which seeks to provide coverage to nearly 46 million uninsured Americans, rein in healthcare costs and regulate insurance practices has been assailed by critics over its $1 trillion cost and scope.
Republicans call it a government takeover of healthcare that will drive up the deficit and hurt the economy at a time when the United States is facing its longest recession since the Great Depression.
Democrats who control Congress have feuded among themselves over how to pay for healthcare reform, and Obama’s public approval rating has slipped as the debate drags on.
Obama says the package is vital to a U.S. economic recovery. No Republicans have backed the proposals being crafted in Congress.
“Let me explain what reform will mean for you. And let me start by dispelling the outlandish rumors that reform will promote euthanasia, cut Medicaid or bring about a government takeover of health care. That’s simply not true,” Obama said in his Saturday address.
“There are those who ... are trying to exploit differences or concerns for political gain,” he added.
Obama acknowledged some differences remained to be worked out but insisted that “we are moving toward a broad consensus” and reaffirmed his goal of getting the healthcare revamp enacted by the end of the year.
He will keep up his own public relations offensive on healthcare next week when he holds a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Editing by Peter Cooney and Paul Simao