In an interview with Jim Lehrer, President Barack Obama said he could be flexible on the August deadline for a health care reform plan if most details are in place and discussed the state of the economy.
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Mr. President, it must have been a little unpleasant for you to wake up this morning and see this headline: Washington Post poll shows Obama slipping on key issues, approval rating on health care falls below 50 percent. What's that mean?
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
It means that what we're doing is hard and, you know, the truth is I feel pretty good about the fact that our polls have held up under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. You know, I think we may have set a very high bar for ourselves. Normally at 59 percent, folks would say, "We'll take it."
On health care in particular, look, there's a reason why this hasn't been done in 50 years and that is because this is a big, complex situation, a lot of special interests here in Washington who are very protective of the status quo. But what the American people understand is that the status quo is unsustainable, that their premiums are doubling, their out-of-pocket expenses have skyrocketed.
We've got 46 million people without health insurance. It is bankrupting families; it is bankrupting businesses and ultimately could bankrupt the federal government. So they know that. They want change. Now, when you start getting into details, it's pretty easy to get people wondering, "Gosh, you know, is the devil — I know better than the devil I don't."
And that's why it's so important for me to be consistently clear about the fact that under every proposal that I've discussed people would not have to give up their health care plan if they're happy with it. They don't have to change doctors if they're happy with it.
We want to give them more choices — make sure that they have the kind of insurance reforms in place so that we don't have to see people excluded because of a preexisting condition from care, if they lose their job, if they change jobs.
So the congressional process, people are always a little suspicious of. I'm confident, though, that in the end, any bill I sign is going to make more people secure in their health care and it's going to drive down costs over the long term.
You still believe the House and Senate will pass something by the August recess, which is barely three weeks away?
I am — I think this is actually a good example of where the focus tends to be on what we haven't gotten done yet rather than what we've done. We have three out of the five committees that have jurisdiction over this thing have already passed a bill. We've got support from the American Medical Association — so the nation's doctors have said we are supportive of the president's approach.
We have the nurses — so the people who know health care best have said we're supportive. We've got the hospitals saying we're supportive. We've got AARP, the American organization of retirees, saying we're supportive. And so we actually have made, I think, extraordinary progress. Now, we've got this last little bit to go and that includes some very tough questions: primarily, how do you pay on the front end for coverage of the people who don't currently have it? Because what I've said is I'm not going to add to the deficit. We've got to pay for whatever we're doing.
And how are we going to then make sure that we're controlling health care inflation on the back end? Those two questions are tough, difficult questions, but that's why presumably these folks got elected — that's certainly why I got elected — to solve these hard problems.