WASHINGTON – Struggling to regain control of his message on health care, President Barack Obama made his pitch to skeptical and friendly audiences alike on Thursday – a final push on his chief legislative priority before he heads out of town on vacation.
In a radio interview at the White House on Thursday afternoon, Obama tried to clear up what he described as confusion surrounding his health care proposal. He described the so-called public option as only a small, and optional, part of his overall initiative.
“What we’ve said is, we think that’s a good idea,” Obama said of publicly funded health insurance. “We haven’t said that’s the only aspect.”
Obama repeated his aides’ contention that the White House continues to regard a public option as not essential. “The press got a little excited, and some folks on the left got a little excited,” he said. “Our position on this hasn’t changed.”
A bipartisan group of senators headed back to the negotiating table Thursday night in the hopes of reaching a compromise. But the contours of any such deal remained elusive, given resistance on both sides to a public option and growing insistence from liberal and progressive Democrats that the provision must remain intact for health reform to be meaningful.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared Thursday that a government-run health insurance program is mandatory, and she knocked down speculation that the House health care bill might be watered down before it is brought to a vote, presumably in September.
“I don’t know how you would scale it down,” Pelosi said at a press conference in San Francisco. “There’s no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option.”
Obama was a guest of Philadelphia-based talk show host Michael Smerconish, a contrarian, sometimes right-leaning commentator who broke ranks with conservatives last year to support the president in the election.
Health care dominated the radio interview. Obama said he is holding out for a compromise with Republicans, but that he believes some Republican leaders are being obstructionist for political gain.
“As far as negotiations with Republicans, my attitude has always been, let’s see if we can get this done with some consensus. I would love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process,” Obama said. But, he said he believes some Republicans have decided, “Let’s not give them a victory and maybe we can have a replay of 1993-9. … I think there are some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook. But this shouldn’t be a political issue.” He singled out Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., for trying to work in a constructive way.
“We are willing to make compromises,” Obama said, adding that he is not willing to give up on “core principles.”