Obama steps up push for health reform

President Obama speaks during a press conference on health care in the East Room of the White House on July 22, 2009.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: Healthcare reform is the topic of the day, and the week, the month -- quite possibly the year as well. For the fourth day in a row President Obama stepped up to the microphones to make his case. Tonight at a prime-time press conference.

Tamara Keith's on the health desk for us today.

Hey, Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH: Hey, Kai.

RYSSDAL: The president didn't waste any time. Came right out in that opening statement and linked health care directly to this broader economic strategy he has.

KEITH: That he did because, you know, the economy is at the top of everyone's minds, and he wanted to make sure that everyone saw the link right away.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health-insurance reform is central to that effort.

RYSSDAL: Did he, Tamara, say anything about the timing of this whole thing? He's been very vocal about this August deadline, though it has slid recently in the past couple of days, he started talking about by the end of the year. Any more information on that?

KEITH: Well, he definitely did not say the word August. Not once. And he did, however, try to hold firm -- as firm as one can without mentioning an actual deadline. Here's what he had to say:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: If you don't set deadlines in this town, things don't happen. The default position is inertia. Because doing something always creates some people who are unhappy.

And then this is where he started to open the door to delay, or at least he was addressing the concerns of Republicans and others who feel like it's moving too fast. And if it moves too fast, then you end up with a bill that isn't as good. And so this is what he then said:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: If, at the end of the day, I do not yet see that we have it right, then I'm not going to sign a bill that, for example, adds to our deficit. I won't sign a bill that doesn't reduce health care inflation so that families, as well as government, are saving money.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, on that point, Tamara, he said in his opening statement that there is broad agreement on what has to happen. Congress is still working through a few key issues, one of which is how to pay for this thing. Where are we on that one?

KEITH: Yeah, it's just a minor little issue.

RYSSDAL: That's right.

KEITH: And actually he tried to downplay the significance of this. In his opening remarks he talked about how two-thirds of this has been figured out. Two-thirds of the funding, he says, is going to come from other government health care spending -- it'll just be cost-shifting. And then he said, you know, that the problem is that we're fighting over the last third. And there are all kinds of things that are being discussed. He didn't come down strongly in favor of any of them. Though he did say that he doesn't want this thing to be paid for by middle-class Americans.

RYSSDAL: What about the political part of this question? It's economic, in part, obviously political in great part, and that is, whether or not he changed anybody's mind. Congress is debating, lobbyists are lobbying, taxpayers are looking. . . . Where is the conversation?

KEITH: Well, he was trying to talk directly to Americans tonight. He said he was going to tell them what was in it for them. And he talked about a health care plan, a hypothetical health care plan, where health care costs would double over the next 10 years. People would lose their health care coverage. The federal government would be heavily burdened. The deficit would rise. And he said, you know, a lot of people would be opposed to that. And then he said that's what's happening right now. That's the status quo. And I think he's hoping that message will get out to people sitting in their living rooms.

RYSSDAL: Tamara Keith in Washington this evening for us. Thank you, Tamara.

KEITH: Thanks, Kai.

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