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Political Divisions Intensify Over Costs of Health Reform

President Barack Obama pushed back Tuesday against stepped-up Republican efforts to question his health reform agenda. Four members of key congressional committees discuss the divisions on Capitol Hill.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President Obama pressed again for consensus on health care reform today. In a series of appearances, he appealed for action in the face of mounting resistance.

    NewsHour health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our lead story report.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama:

    I think this has to be done.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The president picked up where he left off last night in his interview with the NewsHour.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Good afternoon, everybody.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    In the White House Rose Garden, without naming names, Mr. Obama took on Republican efforts to kill the kind of legislation he wants.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    I know that there are those in this town who openly declare their intention to block reform. It's a familiar Washington script that we've seen many times before.

    But there are many others who are working hard to address this growing crisis. I know that there is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground. 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.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Still, Republicans have stepped up efforts to stop the president's plan and derail his push for speedy action.

  • AD NARRATOR:

    They've loaned Barack Obama their future without even knowing it.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    The GOP is using a national advertising campaign to target the Democratic initiative.

  • AD NARRATOR:

    … a risky experiment with our health care. Barack Obama's massive spending experiment hasn't healed our economy. His new experiment risks their future and our health.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele went after the House Democrats' proposal to impose a surtax on families earning more than $350,000 a year.

    MICHAEL STEELE, republican party chairman: The Democrat plan does not contain costs. It shifts them to the taxpayer, to our children, and to future generations that will have to cope with this crushing debt by implementing huge premium subsidies and establishing a government-controlled health care plan.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested an alternative that would affect fewer people. It would raise the limit on the proposed tax increase to $500,000 a year for individuals and $1 million for families.

    A proposal to tax the wealthy has received a frosty reception in the Senate. So once again, members of the key Finance Committee met behind closed doors in the office of Committee Chairman Max Baucus to talk about ways to pay for health care reform. One idea floated today would have insurance companies pick up a sizable portion of the tab.

    This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said failure is not an option.

    SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Senate majority leader: We're closer to ever — closer than ever in getting it done. The American people, doctors, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, and many others want us to cross the finish line. But the party of no is hoping that we'll trip and fall. And they're saying it publicly.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    Republican senators insist they are not opposed to reforming health care, they just don't like the Democrats' approach. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.:

    If you think of all the issues we care about, obviously, health care is right at the top of the list, because it deals with each of us in a very personal way. So let me repeat again: This is not about winning or losing. This is about getting it right. And we saw with the stimulus the effort to rush and spend.

  • BETTY ANN BOWSER:

    This afternoon, the president summoned House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to the White House. Conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the group, led by Arkansas' Mike Ross, say the more than $1 trillion price tag is too high.

  • REP. MIKE ROSS, D-Ark.:

    There's about 10 issues that we're concerned with. Obviously, cost-cutting is first on that list.

    Today, the more than an hour we spent with the president today focused specifically on cost containment. There's a lot of ideas out there, a lot of good negotiations. It was productive.

    No final decisions are yet made on cost-containment measures, because, quite frankly, we've got to wait for the CBO to score the bill as well as these potential cost-cutting measures.