WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama rejected in an interview Tuesday the criticism that he has compromised too much in order to secure health care reform legislation, challenging his critics to identify any “gap” between what he campaigned on last year and what Congress is on the verge of passing.
“Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health care bill,” Obama said in an Oval Office interview with the Washington Post about his legislative record this year. “Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill.”
As the Senate prepares to pass its version of health care reform, Obama has come under sharp criticism for the size and shape of the legislation, including most recently from the left wing of his own party.
Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, for one, has said he would prefer that the Democrat-controlled Senate defeat the bill rather than have what he considers to be weak legislation pass into law.
In the interview, Obama offered a vigorous defense of the legislation and the priorities he set out in shaping it, saying he is “not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved.”
He said the Senate legislation accomplishes “95 percent” of what he called for during his 2008 presidential campaign and in his September speech to a joint session of Congress on the need for health care reform.
In listing those priorities, Obama cited the 30 million uninsured Americans projected to receive coverage, budget estimates of more than $1 trillion in savings over the next two decades, a “patients’ bill of rights on steroids” to protect consumers from being dropped by insurance companies, and tax breaks to help small businesses pay to cover employees.
Those elements are in the House and Senate versions of health care legislation, whose competing elements will have to be reconciled in conference committee early next year. The House bill includes a public option, the government-run plan favored by Dean and other progressive Democrats, but the Senate version leaves it out.
Obama said the public option “has become a source of ideological contention between the left and right.” But, he added, “I didn’t campaign on the public option.”
“We don’t feel that the core elements to help the American people have been compromised in any significant way,” Obama said.