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Health care reform still faces skepticism

Fri., Sept. 11, 2009, midnight

President Barack Obama is applauded by nurses  prior to speaking about health care Thursday in Washington.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
President Barack Obama is applauded by nurses prior to speaking about health care Thursday in Washington. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Cost worries Democrats; Republicans not mollified

WASHINGTON – One day after President Barack Obama pitched his plan for comprehensive health care reform in a joint session of Congress, administration officials struggled Thursday to detail how he would achieve his goal of extending coverage to millions of uninsured Americans without increasing the deficit.

In two public appearances and private meetings with a dozen lawmakers Thursday, Obama promised a “full court press,” saying, “We have talked this issue to death.”

The 10-year, $900 billion proposal envisioned by Obama borrows heavily from concepts circulating on Capitol Hill, but there was little immediate evidence that the broad ideas were sufficient to break a logjam in Congress.

After refusing for months to identify himself with the details of emerging legislation, Obama for the first time Wednesday embraced a set of ideas as “my plan.” But the White House released scant specifics on legislation advertised as including new taxes, changes in malpractice law, a new national high-risk insurance pool, a commission on eliminating Medicare fraud and tax credits for individual consumers and small businesses that can’t afford insurance.

“His speech was very specific and, as promised, answered the big questions about how we should proceed on providing a secure and stable health system for all Americans,” White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said. “Many of the details will be worked out in the legislative process.”

Even the president’s efforts to bridge the partisan divide – he endorsed two ideas developed by Republicans in his speech – were met with skepticism.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who grinned broadly Wednesday night when Obama announced that he was backing McCain’s idea for a high-risk pool that would serve as a safety net for those individuals who are currently difficult to insure, was collecting signatures Thursday on a petition in opposition to the president’s entire plan.

The Obama proposal is an “egregiously expensive and expansive form of government-run health care,” McCain said in an online letter to supporters.

More troubling for Obama were the mixed signals from Democrats who, absent any signs of significant Republican support, have increasingly become the focus of the president’s personal lobbying effort. After a White House meeting with the president, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., voiced concerns that the most prominent reform proposals fall short.

“We all understand that we want to move toward universal coverage, but I don’t think we’re focusing enough on costs,” he said.

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