Washington — Debate raged on unabated Tuesday over the pace and shape of legislation reinventing health care as President Barack Obama tried to remain on the offensive against stiffening opposition, especially from Republicans.
Following a recent pattern, harsh public exchanges ricocheted along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol amid laborious work on the measure that Obama has insisted be put together before Congress leaves in August for its recess.
Obama stepped once more before the cameras at the White House to say strides have been made. At the same time, he repeated that the sticker shock that critics keep citing will be worse in the absence of an overhaul and exhorted Washington to “insist that this time it will be different.”
Republicans hewed to the emerging message: It’s too expensive and it’s all happening too fast.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky argued that a rapid-fire approach carries pitfalls similar to ones he said have adversely affected a $787 billion economic stimulus package. “Health care reform is too important to rush through and get wrong,” McConnell argued in a floor speech.
Said Obama: “The American people understand that the status quo is unacceptable.”
Beyond the talking points cascading through the capital, Obama had a meeting planned later Tuesday with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been among the major players in developing legislation that among other things would spread the health care coverage umbrella over the roughly 50 million people who don’t now have that protection.
“They don’t care who’s up or who’s down politically in Washington,” the president said. “They care about what’s going on in their own lives. They don’t care about the latest line of political attack. They care about whether their families will be crushed by rising premiums.”
At a crucial moment in the health care discussions, Obama’s comments did not contain new details or arguments. He tried to keep up the momentum by emphasizing the positive — the broad areas of agreement so far — as opposed to the differences and obstacles that threaten to derail or postpone the effort.
Obama repeated key points of agreement between the White House and lawmakers. Among them: people should not be denied coverage because of an existing health problem and they should not lose coverage if they change jobs.
Left unsaid were the deep divisions and tough decisions about how to pay for the extensions of coverage to millions who don’t have it and how to contain those growing costs in the long run.
“I know that there is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground,” Obama said. “But make no mistake: We are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we’re going to get the job done.”
Obama’s increased personal involvement comes with sticker shock reverberating around Capitol Hill in the wake of a bleak prognosis from the Congressional Budget Office last week saying lawmakers’ health proposals wouldn’t hold down costs. Some experts have said the overhaul could cost more than $1 trillion in the next several years.
The president generically criticized critics of the legislation as people who are either trying to delay action until unnamed “special interests” can kill the bills, or others who just want to score political points.
“That’s one path we can travel,” he said. “Or we can come together and insist that this time it will be different. We can choose action over inaction. We can choose progress over the politics of the moment.”
AP Writers David Espo, Ben Feller, Stephen Ohlemacher, Alan Fram, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.