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Obama Takes Pitch for Health Care Reform to the Public

June 11, 2009 at 6:00 PM EST
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President Barack Obama hit the road Thursday to promote an overhaul of the nation's health care system as Congressional battle lines began to be drawn on reform legislation. Kwame Holman reports on the latest developments.
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama hit the road today to promote a
nationwide health care overhaul. But, back in Washington, congressional battle lines on
the issue emerged, with stiff Republican opposition to any government-run
system.

“NewsHour” correspondent Kwame Holman has our lead
story report.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s pitch came at a town hall
meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin,
a community that gets more bang for its health care buck than just about any
city in the U.S.
There, Mr. Obama insisted the country needed to better manage its health care
spending.

U.S. President BARACK OBAMA: We have the most expensive
health care system in the world, bar none. We spend almost 50 percent more per
person on health care than the next most expensive nation, 50 percent more. But
here’s the thing, Green Bay:
We’re not any healthier for it. We don’t necessarily have better outcomes.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president said, if nothing is done to
reverse that trend, there would be more severe consequences.

BARACK OBAMA: If we don’t act, and act soon, to bring down
costs, it will jeopardize everybody’s health care. If we don’t act, every
American will feel the consequence, in higher premiums — which, by the way,
means lower take-home pay — in lost jobs and shuttered business, in a rising
number of uninsured and a rising debt that our children and their children will
be paying off for decades.

If we do nothing, within the decade we will be spending $1
out of every $5 we earn on health care. And in 30 years, we will be spending $1
out of every $3 we earn on health care.

Now, that’s untenable. It’s unacceptable. I will not allow
it as president of the United
States.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Obama also addressed what his expectations
were for the debate going forward.

BARACK OBAMA: These are genuinely complicated issues and
nobody has all the right answers.

So what we have to do is to find the 80 percent of stuff
that everybody agrees on.

The challenge is going to revolve around how do we deal with
the 20 percent of the stuff where people disagree?

This whole issue of the public plan is a good example, by
the way. I mean, right now, a number of my Republican friends have said,
“We can’t support anything with a public option.”

It’s not clear that it’s based on any evidence, as much as
it is their thinking, their fear that, somehow, once you have a public plan,
that government will take over the entire health care system.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many experts say expanding and changing health
care could cost well more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Today, Mr. Obama said paying for that would come in part
through reducing Medicare overpayments, eliminating waste and fraud in Medicare
and Medicaid, and scaling back tax cuts on top wage-earners.

Even before the president’s event, Republicans and some moderate
Democrats were staked out ground on the health care reform debate, House
Republican Leader John Boehner’s position: against any public health insurance
plan.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: I’m opposed to a government
option, period. Listen, if you like going to the DMV, and you think they do a
great job, or if you like going to the post office and think it’s the most
efficient thing you have run into, then you will love the government-run health
care system that they’re proposing, because that’s basically what you’re going
to have.

KWAME HOLMAN: On top of the president’s support for a public
plan, drafts of Democratic proposals in the House and the Senate also call for
the creation of a government backed-plan to compete with private insurers.

The measures also would require all Americans to purchase
coverage or face fines. Waivers would be made for individuals who can’t afford
to buy insurance.

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, Judd
Gregg of New Hampshire,
said he was concerned about the direction of the bills currently in the works.

SEN. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H.: … that are blank pages. We
receive them as blank pages. We don’t know what the final numbers are. We don’t
know what the final language is. But there are some things that are pretty
obvious in the bill, which is that it spends a heck of a lot of money, and it
doesn’t have any way to pay for any of it. And that’s not good fiscal policy.
It’s not healthy fiscal policy.

And, therefore, we have reservations about moving forward on
a markup without having hard numbers and hard language as to what it is they’re
asking us to vote on.

KWAME HOLMAN: Opposition to a government plan also came from
powerful interest groups, including the American Medical Association. In a
statement, the AMA said it opposes any public plan that forces physicians to
participate, but wants to achieve meaningful health reform this year.

President Obama will address the AMA Monday in Chicago, where he will
push again for health care reform.