Health Care Reform Tops Obama’s Priority List

In the president’s weekly address, released Saturday while
he was in France for the 65th anniversary of D-Day, Mr. Obama focused on health
care, citing the crippling effect soaring costs have on the nation’s economy as
the reason why reform cannot be delayed.

“The status quo is broken,” he said, while warning
that the current system could collapse if nothing is done to control spiraling
costs. “[If] we do nothing, everyone’s health care will be put in

Administration aides also signaled over the weekend that the
White House intends to take a more aggressive approach to reform, with President
Obama playing a key role in pushing Congress to agree on a new policy. “Ultimately,
as happened with the [economic] recovery act, it will become President Obama’s
plan,” Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management and Budget and the
administration’s lead spokesman on health care reform, told the New York Times.
“I think you will see that evolution occurring over the next few weeks. We
will be weighing in more definitively, and you will see him out there.”

As Congress gears up for summer-long negotiations, the
administration has indicated that it wants a sweeping overhaul of the $2.5
trillion U.S. health care system finished by October, a tight timetable for
such a complex agenda.

In a letter last week to Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts
and Max Baucus of Montana, the two Democrats seen as key to the design of
health care legislation, President Obama laid out his vision for reform. He
reiterated his support for allowing people to keep the plans they get through
their jobs. But he also voiced support for offering a new public health
insurance plan to compete against private insurers. “This will give them a
better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep
insurance companies honest,” Mr. Obama wrote.

The president also called for a “hardship waiver”
like the one in Massachusetts for those who can’t afford coverage and he said more
needs to be done to make plans affordable.

Covering 50 million uninsured Americans could cost as much
as $1.5 trillion over a decade. In President Obama’s reform proposals, he seeks
to cut $309 billion from overall healthcare spending over 10 years, in addition
to cuts of $200 billion to $300 billion from Medicare and Medicaid over 10

In order to make cost increases more palatable to
Republicans, who have spoken out against higher taxes to fund health care
reforms, Mr. Obama has suggested that he could support limiting the existing
tax exclusion for employer-provided health benefits to the highest tax bracket –
a concept he criticized Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain for proposing in the 2008
presidential campaign. Such a move could raise hundreds of millions of dollars
in additional tax income.

On Thursday, Baucus and the ranking Republican on the Senate
Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, expressed optimism in an
interview with the New York Times that they were close to a bipartisan deal.
But over the weekend, Grassley took to Twitter to take offense at Mr. Obama’s
sightseeing at the end of his trip through Europe and the Middle East. Grassley
wrote that the president had some nerve to say it’s time to deliver on health
care reform while taking a break to tour some sights in Paris.

Other Republicans expressed renewed skepticism over the
tenets of a public insurance plan.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned Democrats against pushing such an
initiative. “Democrats know that if they go to a totally partisan approach like
the president has suggested they’re going to eat that the rest of their
lives,” said Hatch.

“I’ll be glad to help them, but not with a public plan,” Hatch
told Fox News.

Support PBS NewsHour: