USA Today: Obama on health care: An issue 'affecting everybody'

Posted on February 25, 2010

President Obama and congressional Republicans couldn't agree Thursday on how to approach the nation's health care problems, much less any specific plan to address them.

Obama touted the $950 billion comprehensive plan he unveiled this week, while the GOP urged a step-by-step approach -- though both sides did agree that rising medical costs and problems in the health insurance markets are threats to families and business owners who are already struggling.

"This is an issue that is affecting everybody," Obama said in kicking off the health care summit at Blair House. "Everybody understands the problem is not getting better -- it's getting worse." 

Obama said his plan would cover nearly all Americans and reduce costs, though he also pledged to listen to Republican counter-ideas as he spoke to GOP and Democratic members of Congress seated around a table in the shape of a square U.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., cited public opposition to Obama's plan, as well as those passed last year by the Democratic-led House and Senate. Alexander said Republicans want to address rising costs through a step-by-step process designed to help the private sector, rather than the government-centered approach favored by Democrats.

"This isn't a car that can be recalled and fixed," Alexander said. "We ought to start over." 

The summit delegates strove for civility, but stark disputes punctuated the morning session.

Obama and Alexander also clashed over a Congressional Budget Office analysis over whether a Senate health care bill. Alexander stressed a section showing that insurance premiums would rise; Obama noted that the study says families can buy better coverage at lower prices.

Alexander told Obama at one point that "with all due respect ... you're wrong."

Obama responded, politely, "I'm pretty certain I'm not wrong."

Alexander also called on Obama to renounce proposals that congressional Democrats try to "jam through" a health care plan through a process known as reconciliation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said reconciliation has been used before, often by Republicans. Reid also chided Alexander for his analysis of the health care situation, saying, "you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts."

Obama later told Alexander he did not want to use the summit to discuss "process," but rather to look for areas where Republicans and Democrats can agree. He acknowledged, however, there may be "too big a gulf."

At another point in the hearing, Reid cut off Sen. Tom Coburn's statement by saying the Oklahoma Republican was conducting a "seminar."

Throughout the day, delegates to the summit will address four areas of the health care system: Rising costs, problems in the insurance market, the impact on federal budget deficits, and efforts to cover all Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also spoke, stressing the economic impact of rising health care costs. They are "an anvil around our businesses," Pelosi said.

In his opening address to the summit, Obama connected health care challenges to the overall economy, including rising budget deficits. He argued that a new health care system would rein in wasteful spending with Medicare and Medicaid, two of the main drivers of the budget deficit. 

He also singled out ideas offered by individual Republicans in room, but also criticized the GOP in general for making ideological objections to health care reform as it worked it ways though Congress last year. 

"Politics, I think, ended up trumping practical common sense," the president said.