Obama Calls for 'Civil' Tone on Health Care
President Defends His Reform Move In Broadcast Blitz

By Ceci Connolly and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 21, 2009

President Obama sought to blanket the airwaves with an impassioned defense of his health-care reform effort Sunday during back-to-back broadcasts of taped interviews on five morning news programs.

In interviews conducted Friday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Obama acknowledged being "humbled" by the challenge of "breaking through" in the complicated and emotional battle over health-care reform.

"I think there have been times where I have said I've got to step up my game in terms of talking to the American people about issues like health care," he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."

"I've tried to keep it digestible, you know, it's very hard for people to get their -- their whole arms around it. And that's been a case where I have been humbled and I just keep on trying harder, because I, I really think it's the right thing to do for the country."

Beyond health care, Obama also said he will remain skeptical about the need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan until he is satisfied that the military has the right strategy for winning the war there. And as previously reported by the networks on Friday, he dismissed former president Jimmy Carter's contention that critics are fueled primarily by racial hatred.

But the interviews were devoted primarily to the battle over his health-care efforts. Hewing to virtually the same script in each, Obama voiced a desire for a more "civil" tone in the debate.

"We all have an obligation to try to conduct this conversation in a civil way. And to recognize that each of us are patriots," he told NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press."

Republicans shot back quickly, sending out an e-mail to reporters titled "IF IT'S SUNDAY, IT'S MISLEADING THE PRESS." In it, the Republican National Committee offered its theory for the president's five-show Sunday blitz: "Desperate To Get Americans On His Side, Obama Continues To Push Falsehoods About His Government-Run Health Care Experiment," the release read.

After Obama's appearance on NBC, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said the issue is not one of rhetoric or style.

"The president is selling something people aren't buying," Graham said. "He's been on everything but the Food Channel."

In the interviews, which also included CNN's "State of the Union," CBS's "Face the Nation" and the Spanish-language Univision, Obama portrayed himself as willing to take politically difficult positions, citing his move to push for the use of alternative dispute resolution in cases of medical malpractice.

"That's not popular in my party," h e said on NBC.

But many physician leaders have complained that the administration's $25 million grant program falls far short of the aggressive changes they seek, including a cap on legal awards to injured patients.

The president brushed off suggestions by some allies that the fight over his centerpiece domestic policy initiative has been tinged by racial attitudes.

"What's driving passions right now is health care has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy," he said on CBS. "I have no interest in increasing the size of government. I just want to make sure we've got a smart government."

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee begins action on a bill drafted by its chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and 564 amendments.

Several Democratic lawmakers said they hope to change a provision in the Baucus bill that would impose a 35 percent tax on high-priced insurance policies provided through the workplace.

In the CNN interview, Obama played down the impact of the proposal and said he was talking with union leaders who fear that their members could be hit hard because their health coverage tends to be among the most generous in the country.

"I do think that giving a disincentive to insurance companies to offer Cadillac plans that don't make people healthier is part of the way that we're going to bring down health-care costs for everybody over the long term," he said.

Acknowledging a shift in his own thinking, Obama also defended plans to require that every American carry health insurance. He denied repeated assertions from Stephanopoulos that the mandate represents a tax on average Americans.

"You can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase," a clearly frustrated Obama said. "My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that . . . I absolutely reject that notion."

Obama defended proposals to place new fees on the health-care industry and to reduce the government payment to insurers that operate Medicare managed-care plans, saying that "they're making huge profits."

And he said on CNN that illegal immigrants should not "be covered under this health-care plan."

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