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Axelrod Optimistic About Health Care Reform Push

September 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Judy Woodruff speaks with White House senior adviser David Axelrod about what is at stake for President Obama ahead of Wednesday night's speech.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president said today that he had let this debate get away from him in August, that he left a lot of ambiguity out there, that the opponents filled the airwaves. Is that why this speech was necessary?

DAVID AXELROD: This speech was always planned. We always planned to — look, we had a strategy, and that strategy was informed by history that said don’t bring a ready-made bill at the front end and try and foreclose debate.

We laid out some broad principles and challenged the Congress to meet them. Four of the five committees finished work before August. The fifth committee of jurisdiction, the Senate Finance Committee, is going to get it done next week, they announced today.

We’re farther along and in a better position to get this done than at any time in history, and we’ve been at this discussion for 100 years. So, you know, I think it’s working as we expected. We always knew that at some point the president was going to have to bring the strands of this together and bring clarity to it and some direction to it, and now’s the time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is this more of an explanatory speech, given the myths the president says are out there, or more of a persuasive speech?

DAVID AXELROD: Well, I think that there’s persuasion in explanation here. The president is going to talk about the problem. He’s going to talk about his plan to deal with the problem. And he’s going to talk about the myths associated with it that he will debunk, and he’s going to talk about the cost of inaction, which would be severe for the country and for businesses and families everywhere. So he’s going to do a little of both.

But this is — as you know, it’s a very complicated subject. And the best thing he can do tonight is bring real clarity, so — because one thing we know, while people are mixed when they’re asked do you support the president’s plan, when they hear what the plan is, there’s strong support for it.

Tonight’s his night to give people the facts on what the plan does and what it doesn’t do, and I think when he does, it will be a — there will be a very positive reaction to it.

Adding clarity to reform

David Axelrod
White House senior advisor
There are many places in this country where one insurer thoroughly dominates a market. That's not good for consumers. It doesn't bring down price.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You're saying he'll bring more clarity. He himself has said there's going to be clarity after this speech. And yet isn't there still give in the president's position, for example, on the so-called public option?

DAVID AXELROD: Well, I don't think that clarity means intractability. The president believes in a public option as part of this health insurance exchange that we're going to create so people who don't have insurance today and small businesses who don't have insurance because they can't get it for a price they can afford can get it. We believe a public insurance option, not subsidized by taxpayers, but by premiums that they collect, competing with private insurers would give people options.

There are many places in this country where one insurer thoroughly dominates a market. That's not good for consumers. It doesn't bring down price; it doesn't produce quality care. So we want competition and choice, and that's the idea there.

Having said that, the president will say this is not the whole of health insurance reform. It's a means to a goal, and that goal is to bring stability and security to people who have insurance and insurance to people who don't and bring the costs down that are so inexorable and have -- you know, the doubling of costs in the last 10 years. We just can't go on like this.

So those problems are the ones that he's trying to address. Public option is one of the means of addressing them, but it's certainly not the whole of the debate.

Reaching a middle ground

David Axelrod
White House senior advisor

JUDY WOODRUFF: So when you have some Democrats, folks on your side saying they must have the public option, other Democrats saying there's no way they would support it, where's the middle ground?

DAVID AXELROD: I believe that anyone who has been fighting to bring stability and security to our health system, to help to get real health insurance reforms for people who have insurance and a genuine option for people who don't so they can get it at a price they can afford, and they'll get tax credits if they can't afford it, I think that is what we've been working for, for a very long time, and I think you'll find a broad consensus for it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Axelrod, we're also hearing from administration officials today that there's no real surprise in what the president is going to say. So do you really expect people to move in your direction after tonight?

DAVID AXELROD: Well, Judy, as I said before, I think that, more than anything, the American people have heard the reports of various committees of Congress. They've heard the distortions of opponents of health reform about those proposals.

What they're going to hear tonight is the president's plan in some detail, and I think it will have an effect. Every poll I've seen suggests that when people hear the facts -- not the fiction, but the facts -- that there's strong support for this.

And, you know, I think most Americans understand that we're on an unsustainable path here, that we can't keep paying more and more and more and getting less and less and less. And that's the situation we face today. So they want to keep the system we have, but they want it to work for them and not just the insurance companies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Max Baucus, of course, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, saying today he thinks there's a good chance Republicans will not support health care reform in the end. Do you think you still have a shot at getting Republican votes?

Reaching across the aisle

David Axelrod
White House senior advisor
You will see tonight that the president embraces ideas that were offered by Democrats and ideas that were offered by Republicans

DAVID AXELROD: Well, we want to work with anybody who will work with us. And we hope that -- you know, at least -- many on the other side have paid lip service to the notion that this is a crisis and it has to be dealt with. Now is the time to step up and show whether you're sincere about that or not.

You will see tonight that the president embraces ideas that were offered by Democrats and ideas that were offered by Republicans. He's probably met with Republicans -- with members of the opposite party more than any president has over the course of this eight-month debate on this issue. And it's up to them now to decide whether they want to walk through the door and be part of the solution or whether they want to score a political victory.

Senator DeMint said, well, we can, you know, cripple the president and score a great political victory by stopping health insurance reform. Well, that would be really unfortunate for the American people, if that's the attitude that he and others take, because they're the ones who are paying these -- who've seen their premiums double, their out-of-pocket expenses explode, who've seen premiums grow three times more than wages. And he needs to look in the eye of the people of his state and say, "I'm willing to sacrifice relief for you, fairness in your dealing with insurance companies, in order to score a victory over the president."

JUDY WOODRUFF: David Axelrod, we'll all be listening tonight. Thank you very much.

DAVID AXELROD: Thanks, Judy. Good to be with you.