September 2nd, 2009
02:59 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama aiming to seize control of health care debate, aides say

President Obama faces wavering support on health care reform, key White House aides told CNN.
President Obama faces wavering support on health care reform, key White House aides told CNN.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama, facing wavering support on health care reform, is considering a range of options to recapture momentum on his signature domestic initiative, key White House aides told CNN Wednesday.

"The president is considering all of his options on how to advance the debate and get reform passed. This includes possibly laying out a more
specific vision," said one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Among other things, Obama is contemplating giving a major speech detailing specifics on what he would like to see included in a health care
reform bill, added senior adviser David Axelrod.

It's unclear what form a possible speech by the president would take. If he decides to give an address, he could do it from the Oval Office or before a joint session of Congress.


No decisions have been made yet, the official emphasized.

So far, Obama has outlined broad principles for what he would like in health care reform, but he has left most details to leaders in Congress. Now, White House aides say, the dynamic has changed.

"We're entering a new season," Axelrod said. "It's time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done."

The new phase is being "driven in part by the actions of some in the GOP, including Senators Grassley and Enzi," the administration official noted.

The official added, the White House believes those actions indicate that the two key Republicans - Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who are part of a bipartisan group negotiating a health care bill - "are essentially walking away from the table."

The official said that "now is the time to begin to pull together the various strands and solutions from the four bills that have been marked up and other proposals... basically all the cards are on the table."

A statement Wednesday to CNN by Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny criticized complaints about the senator's role in the health care negotiations as unhelpful.

"Attacks by political operatives in the White House undermine bipartisan efforts and drive senators away from the table," the statement said. "Anyone who's been working on an alternative plan - one that would actually drive down costs and not drive up the deficit - knows how difficult the issues are, and that Democratic senators involved in trying to work through the details have as many questions about how proposals would actually achieve reform goals as Republicans."

The statement called Democratic proposals before the House and Senate "policy failures" that it contended were "rejected at the grass roots." It
reiterated that the goal of Grassley's negotiations with five other members of the Senate Finance Committee - three Democrats and two Republicans, including Enzi - was "to see if it's possible to develop an alternative that would improve the system and, as a result, get widespread support."

A separate statement to CNN by Enzi's communications director, Craig Orfield, insisted that the senator's opposition to Democratic health care proposals was consistent.

"Repeating that you don't agree with plans put together solely by one side doesn't mean you aren't willing to work together on a different plan,"

Orfield's statement said. "He is. He has been doing that."

However, Grassley, Enzi and other Republicans in both the House and Senate appear unanimous in opposing a government-funded public health insurance option proposed by Democrats, as well the broad scope and cost of Democratic proposals so far. In addition, some moderate Senate Democrats also worry about the cost of a health care overhaul and say the public option lacks enough votes to pass the Senate.

The compromise agreement being negotiated by Grassley and the other Finance Committee members has dropped the public option, proposing instead the creation of not-for-profit health insurance collectives that could negotiate collective coverage for members.

Obama and Democratic leaders argue that a public option would ensure that coverage is available to all Americans, while forcing private insurers to lower costs through competition.

Republicans reject the concept, saying the public option would drive private insurers out of the market. Republican leaders repeatedly call the
public option a first step toward a government takeover of health care, a claim derided by Democrats as deliberately misleading.

Uncertainty over the political viability of the public option has some House Democrats refusing to rule out the possibility of a final bill without
the provision.

On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland reiterated his support for a public option, but when asked by CNN if House
Democrats would turn their backs on a final bill without it, he said: "I hope that's not the case."

His statement differed from comments by some other Democratic leaders, who call the public option essential for any health care legislation. For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last month that there was "no way" she could pass a bill in the chamber without a public option.

Hoyer represents a conservative district that voted strongly in favor of Republican presidential candidate John McCain in last year's election.

He also is considered the strongest ally among House Democratic leaders of the chamber's fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, some of whom have objected to House health care proposals so far.

As momentum for health care reform has slowed, Obama has come under growing pressure from liberal activists and leading congressional Democrats to provide more specifics.

"I think the president needs to step forward," Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Tuesday. "Be more specific, more aggressively fight for a strong health reform bill with a strong public option. I think he's going to do that."

–CNN's Ted Barrett and Brianna Keilar contributed to this story


Filed under: Health care
soundoff (106 Responses)
  1. Duane

    take your goverment run health care and go jump in a lake.......America does no need or want it.....and it costs way to much money...........

    September 2, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  2. Charlotte

    Well, it's about time. I'm sure there was some reason he sat on the sidelines until now, other than the obvious, which is that he over-estimated the integrity of the death-squadders.

    September 2, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. Emmanuel Goldstein

    The solution is simple, and it would pass if Obama would do the following:

    1. spell out clearly what the program calls for
    2. Spell out the long terms goals, and whether the public option is expected to put private insurance out of business (and if not, why not).
    3. Tell americans how much it will cost, or if it will cost anything extra at all.
    4. Promise to resign if his statements turn out to be false (and for avoidance of doubt, we will use the WMD standard for falsity (Mistaken assumption=Lie).)

    September 2, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  4. Ken

    Start by going back to reforming healthcare, and not trying to reform just the insurance part of it. Give every American the same deal congress gets. No more, no less. if they need money to pay for it, get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They've been killing each other very effectively for 4000 years. They're much better at it than we are anyway.

    September 2, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Lay down the law Mr. President.

    September 2, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  6. pat c

    please mr. president, put our fears to rest and pass the bill SOON! i am so tired of hearing the lies/smears from the other side that i can hardly watch the news anymore. we need this put to bed and move on to energy and better jobs for the middle class. we democrats support you all the way. please pass the bill so that glen beck can take a much needed vacation, ..he is beginning to look a little like tony perkins in psycho!!

    September 2, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. Ajay Jain, Garland, TX, USA

    Many deadlines to the Congress have slipped. Obama has to decide on Public Option in the minimum and go it alone with 50 democrats:

    "...recent comments by two chief Senate Republican negotiators — Charles Grassley of Iowa and Mike Enzi of Wyoming — who have sharply criticized key elements of Democrats' health care plans even as they insisted that a workable bipartisan plan was possible.
    In an August fundraising letter, Grassley asked people for "support in helping me defeat Obama-care." He said Democratic-drafted bills would be "a pathway to a government takeover of the health care system."
    Enzi, in a radio address Saturday, said Democratic proposals would restrict medical choices and make the country's "finances sicker without saving you money." ..."

    September 2, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  8. mjm

    Maybe Obama can try saying something like "if you have health insurance, and you like it, you can keep it."

    Of course, by now we know that if your employer wants to dump you into the public option he can and you will lose your insurance.

    Or maybe Obama can say something like "we need a public option to compete with private insurance.....for 1.7 trillion"

    With over 100 insurance companies, somehow 101 is competition? And if a public option competes with private insurance, wouldn't Medicare already fill that role?

    Who needs to spend 1.7 trillion on reform? Who needs 60 votes to pass a bill?

    Maybe he should just play the race card and get it over with.

    September 2, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  9. Chris

    The Republican don't want a public option because the Insurance companies that are adding money to their pockets don't want it!!! What good is a plan without that OPTION? Also the Democrats need to get their butts inline with what the leader of their Party wants them to do!!!

    September 2, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  10. Ace

    Seize control is the opperative verbage for Obama and his expansive government model. Anyone dumb enough to let him seize healthcare needs help as he has never run anything other than campaigns.

    September 2, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  11. LIP

    It's about time he does something himself and stop letting congress run wild with something this darn important. If President Obama has a vision, he needs to share it with us.

    September 2, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  12. Dave

    The people are speaking and you will not have control Mr. President. That is the problem. The govt does not need more control over us.

    September 2, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  13. shmeckel

    I don’t have a bill, I don’t know if we need a public option or not, frankly I don’t know what I want; but join me now as we spend over a trillion dollars of your money on something that doesn’t exist yet. Why do I need to explain, you fools already want to spend, spend, spend without a plan, explanation, or a bill. Join me as I spend more money than you can comprehend on something I won’t tell you about. All I can say is we need to spend it as quickly as possible or the sun will not rise and humanity will be lost.

    September 2, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  14. Jay T.

    I am confident he is going to get this done. Thank God we have a President who prioritizes domestic issues and the American citizen, instead of trotting round the globe playing cowboy and Indian with the lives of our youth like Bush did. A heap of lies so he and his buddies could make a few bucks. And, these Wingnuts on the Right supported him. Yeah, they are credible.

    September 2, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  15. Traj

    I think you are doing a fine job Mr. President. I know my post will never make it, as they never do because I am for you, but the people reading it know. The polls are of republican leaning independents who voted for you. CNN and all the other news station don't reveal that fact.. They also do not reveal that you base is still 100% with you, and your ARMY is determined to fight even harder to help you get healthcare passed. I don't like Anderson Cooper or any of the CNN people anymore. I view the website only so I can let you, Mr. President, know that I love you, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia very much. And I think you all represent us, the American people more than any other president ever. May The Good Lord bless and keep you safe and sane... Love Tracy Johnson... A Supporter for life, Mr. President...

    September 2, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  16. sms29s

    He needs to do something. I am a supporter of the public option.

    September 2, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. RealityKing

    Some sort of actual plan..., would be a good start.

    September 2, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. Emmanuel Goldstein

    Here's what to do:

    Consistent with your public statements thus far, you should look into the cameras and:

    1. Tell us why your plan will not cause our taxes or the deficit to go up.
    2. Tell us how the public option will not cause private plans to go under and employers to dump everyone onto the public option;
    3. Tell us what you expect the overall plan to accomplish
    4. Offer to resign if you are wrong.

    Then it will sail through Congress and onto your desk.

    September 2, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  19. Dokktor

    Why did'nt he outline this to everyone to start with instead of allowing pelosi to try to rush through the garbage that she was trying to get passed before the recess? If they would get off the public option/give away crap and come up with something that is attainable and sustainable they might get a better reception from the American people who will end up paying for it. The way the present bill was worded it spelled out government takeover of the healthcare system and we all know how efficient that would have been. There are plenty of other regulations that can be put in place to reduce costs. The single payer system would not work.

    September 2, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  20. Lila

    A public option would be like the US postal service.
    Is it the best money can buy? No.

    But it's affordable, and it's there when you need it. It also helps control competitor cost.

    September 2, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  21. Josh in TN

    He needs to. The Dems are acting very weak and afraid to talk. I know they are very busy working on formulas to get the country back in shape, but they have let thr haters explode on them. They have played defense too much. Time to put the weight behind the punch.

    September 2, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  22. BJ

    Good, Mr. Obama you are dealing with some interesting folk. Whenever the Republicans are asked specific questions they do not answer the questions. They are beginning to believe their own 'stories'. Afterall they are driven for a different reason which is not as transparent as most people would think. How about publicizing all the big health company donations each Republicans receive and why they are so frantic to save big business. Where was the outrage when our $5 Trillion surplus went up in ?????? Where was the outrage then?

    September 2, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  23. Grin and Bare It

    You can bet that if this health care bill gets passed, especially without Republican support, i for one will be looking to vote any and all of my states Democratic leaders out of Office. The Democrats are acting as if they are the only ones who count and I believe that this is going to be another Pearl Harbor move, You know, sneak attack. I remember a poster saying once that America Will Die from Within: I believe that it was a quote from Joseph Stalin:

    America, is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold: its patriotism, its morality, and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within." ... Joseph Stalin

    Proud Americans protesting for their rights have been accused of not being patriots, Americas moral character is in question, and Obama suggests that we are not a Christian nation. The ACLU keeps trying to tear down our religious freedoms, You tell me, are we headed for our own demise?

    September 2, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  24. demwit

    "The compromise agreement being negotiated by Grassley and the other Finance Committee members"

    You mean Republicans DO have a healthcare reform plan!? But but., thats not what the media, including CNN, keeps repeating over and over and over and over!!?? I'm soooooo confused...

    September 2, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  25. paul

    To get any real Healthcare reform done Obama needs to set up and take control of this process. If he doesn't you risk the failure of the stalwarts of Pelosi and other liberals with creating something that ultimately doesn't get passed because of the blue dog dems. You also risk the lack of a bipartisian meausre which could greatly endanger the democratic party if they build something they can't pay for without raising taxes. It's time for the President to do his job and come up with a compromise that we can all get behind.

    September 2, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
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