President Barack Obama insisted he can overhaul the U.S. healthcare system and keep a campaign pledge not to raise taxes for anyone but the wealthiest Americans, in a media blitz on Sunday to promote his top domestic policy priority.
Obama gave interviews to five Sunday television talk shows to promote his plans, which he and his fellow Democrats are determined to pass despite a lack of Republican support.
In the interviews taped on Friday, he said they would not lead to middle-class tax increases and tried to put an exclamation point on a debate which has lasted months and could be in its final weeks, and that could define his presidency.
A Gallup poll last week found that by 60 percent to 38 percent, Americans do not believe the government can expand healthcare coverage without raising taxes on the middle class or affecting the quality of care.
The U.S. healthcare system is the world's most expensive -- a new Kaiser Family Foundation study found that insurance coverage for an average family costs $13,375 a year and that premiums have increased 138 percent over the past decade -- but lags other advanced industrial states in quality of care.
Additionally, 46 million people in the United States lack any health insurance coverage, leaving them at risk of economic catastrophe if they get sick.
Obama said on CBS' Face the Nation he could still keep his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000. He said much of the cost of the overhaul could be funded by eliminating waste and abuse.
I can still keep that promise because as I've said, about two-thirds of what we've proposed would be from money that's already in the healthcare system but just being spent badly. And as I said before, this is not me making wild assertions, Obama said.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said the plan would raise taxes for individuals and small businesses and cut benefits to the elderly under the government's Medicare insurance program.
He also said it would be a serious mistake for Democrats to use a legislative loophole to try to pass the measure without Republican support.
What they'll be doing in effect is jamming through a proposal to rewrite the economy with about 24 hours of debate, McConnell said on CNN's State of the Union. ... I think that will produce a very, very severe reaction among the American people who are already, according to the Gallup poll, not in favor of the direction we are taking on this very important issue.
BAUCUS PROPOSES FEE
A proposal by Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, would impose a fee on expensive health insurance policies. It could raise $215 billion over 10 years and pay for a fourth of the cost of an $856 billion plan.
Asked if insurance companies would pass on the cost of the fee to consumers, Obama said, Here's the problem, they're passing on those costs to the consumer anyway.
Obama's healthcare campaign has prompted raucous demonstrations by Americans skeptical of the plan. Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouted You lie at Obama during his recent speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
The exchange led former President Jimmy Carter to say Obama was a victim of racism, a claim Obama dismissed.
You know, I think that it really has more to do with the fact that there are some people who think government can't do anything. As I said, there's some people who just cynically want to defeat me politically, but there's nothing new about that, Obama told Univision.
The interviews came just before Obama heads to New York and Pittsburgh to focus on foreign policy and the global economy.
The media barrage, after repeated healthcare rallies and the major address to Congress on September 9, prompted criticisms that Obama risks diluting his message through overexposure.
The White House said the president must make his case in a variety of ways because Americans get news in so many places.
Many analysts agreed, saying the White House erred earlier by leaving it to Democrats in Congress to formulate a strategy and sell it to the public.
Their best card is Obama himself and his ability to sway a crowd with his speeches, said Daniel Amundson, research director at George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington.