President Barack Obama said on Monday spiraling healthcare costs were battering American families as he sought to bolster wavering public support for plans to revamp the $2 trillion healthcare industry.
Obama said now was the time for Congress to act, even as the chairman of the Republican National Committee condemned the White House plan, which would establish a new government-run health insurance option, as a reckless experiment.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted last week and published on Monday found approval of Obama's handling of the issue fell to 49 percent from 57 percent in April, and disapproval rose to 44 percent from 29 percent.
The poll followed estimates released in the last week that suggested the reforms, which are now before Congress and are Obama's top domestic priority, would fail to create the long-term savings that he wants and cost more than originally estimated.
Even as America's families have been battered by spiraling healthcare costs, health insurance companies and their executives have reaped windfall profits from a broken system, Obama said after a healthcare roundtable at Children's National Medical Center.
We've talked this problem to death year after year but unless we act and act now, none of this will change, he said.
RNC chairman Michael Steele said the president's plan, which is meant to extend healthcare to some 46 million uninsured, amounted to socialism.
The president is rushing this experiment through Congress so fast, so soon, that we haven't had a moment to think if it would work -- or worse, to think about the consequences to our nation, our economy and our families' economic future if it doesn't, he said at the National Press Club.
Obama was also to give a round of television interviews and use the Internet as his administration tries to build momentum for congressional passage in two to three weeks.
Obama's administration has struggled to overcome concerns among fiscally conservative Democrats that already burdened federal and state governments could not afford to expand healthcare without more borrowing or large tax hikes.
Last week, nonpartisan congressional budget analysts said the plan would add $239 billion to the budget deficit over 10 years, casting doubt on Obama's pledge to keep the plan within the budget.
Reforming the healthcare industry is a major test of Obama's presidency, 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.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee was to complete work on its portions of the legislation, the last of three House of Representatives committees needed to agree to the plan.
But House Democratic leaders struggled to find ways to bring the plan within the budget, as did the Senate Finance Committee, which was to continue closed-door discussions on Monday evening.Obama's budget director Peter Orszag said on Sunday there were a number of options to curb the cost of the bill to keep it from increasing the federal deficit.
Remember, none of this is easy. There's a reason why this hasn't happened in 50 years, and we're making a lot of progress, Orszag said on CNN.
ROUNDING UP SUPPORTERS
Unlike President Bill Clinton's failed attempt to overhaul healthcare in the 1990s, this time the effort has found important supporters.
The American Medical Association announced its backing last week; pharmaceutical companies joined hands with Families USA, the chief lobbying group for the insured; and on Monday the leading health insurance trade group said it would take to television and radio to seek a bipartisan plan.
If everyone's covered, we can make health care as affordable as possible. And the words 'pre-existing condition' become a thing of the past, the America's Health Insurance Plans advertisement said.
The insurers applauded reforms that would aim for universal coverage, guarantee coverage for those with pre-existing conditions who are often excluded now, and ensure continuity of care.
The bills working their way through Congress would set up a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, provide coverage to many of the 46 million uninsured and try to stem runaway medical costs.
But a decision on how to pay for it was some way off.
The House, in its version of the bill, would pay for about $587 billion with new taxes, including one on the wealthy that Republicans charged would catch small business owners in its net and cost more jobs during the recession.
Senate Finance Committee leaders met behind closed doors to thrash out ways to pay, including perhaps a tax on health insurers at a value of $100 billion over 10 years.