Obama: 'Time to deliver' on health care

June 6, 2009 6:28:07 PM PDT
The White House, backing away from President Barack Obama's "it's-all-on-the-table" approach he initially advocated, prepared to get louder and more involved in a health care overhaul's details that officials once were content to leave to Congress, administration officials said Saturday. The White House's attention increases as Congress turns to a priority that officials watched in recent weeks drift off what has otherwise been a precise pathway; even with an Obama-imposed August deadline, many administration aides weren't sure just how much they would be able to accomplish before Congress left for the summer.

All of that is set to change as Obama's top advisers prepared to unleash a long-planned grassroots effort meant to illustrate power and, at the same time, to intimidate opposition. It is coming with Obama's explicit blessing, according to officials, who spoke anonymously to discuss private conversations.

Aides at Organizing for America - as Obama's political arm is known - said tens of thousands of supporters participated in thousands of events for health care overhaul on Saturday.

With some 14 million e-mail addresses and an Internet-based advocacy machine that helped him win an election, Obama's political arm sought to deliver a changes to the health system similar to the ones Obama talked about during the campaign - not one that was mauled through endless compromise or one far different from the one that motivated thousands of volunteers last fall.

Obama has indicated he wanted to hear Democrats' and Republicans' ideas, but has also told them that he's the president and they are among many elected members of Congress. They also were warned that the re-election campaign-in-waiting was revving its engines.

That part of the message was clear, even if other pieces were not.

After Senate Democrats met with Obama and his top aides in the State Dining Room, one of the president's fellow Democrats marched to a White House microphone and declared that the administration was opening to taxing health care benefits - something Obama opposed during campaign and remains personally against.

"It's on the table. It's an option," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

The problem, Obama aides later reluctantly acknowledged: Obama said exactly what the powerful chairman said.

Obama had refused to start declaring any provision "a sacred cow," according to an official familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal meetings. Although Obama's personal position on the tax is clear, he had sought to let lawmakers fashion the exact language.

And despite Obama's stated preference for a bipartisan solution, that's looking hard to achieve. If his campaign-era supporters can unify behind him, Obama might not need the minority Republicans.

To be sure, Obama and his advisers - both inside the White House and outside - remember what happened when President Bill Clinton took to Congress a plan deemed too detailed and too prescriptive. Obama's inner-circle wants to help him avoid the mistakes that led the Clinton plan to collapse under its own weight.

So, for a while, Obama's team was willing to let Congress take ownership.

No more, Obama's team said. If the president wants health care overhaul, the White House needs to be controlling what's being said, not their allies - or, worse, their rivals. Obama's advisers have pushed Obama to start calling out unpalatable options or long-shot ideas.

"This issue, health care reform, is not a luxury," Obama said during his weekly radio and Internet address, released Saturday while he visited France. "It's not something that I want to do because of campaign promises or politics. This is a necessity. This is something that has to be done."

Releasing an address on domestic policy on the heels of a major speech to Muslims in Cairo, the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, and visits to Saudi Arabia and Germany showed Obama's commitment to health, advisers said.

Even while completing a whirlwind overseas trip, Obama used his weekly message to push for a health care plan whose momentum has slowed while the economy continued its downward slide. Initial bursts of activity have been overshadowed by the struggling auto industry, worried financial institutions and climbing unemployment.

"All across America, our families are making hard choices when it comes to health care. Now, it's time for Washington to make the right ones," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, released Saturday morning from the White House while Obama was in Paris.

"It's time to deliver."

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On the Net:

Video of address: http://www.whitehouse.gov/

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