In Ohio, Obama says he won't 'walk away' from health-care fight

A combative President Barack Obama weaved us-against-them rhetoric into his appearances in Ohio, telling a town hall audience that he "will never stop fighting" for an economy that works the hard-working and giving an explanation for his stalled health care reform bill.
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 2010

ELYRIA, OHIO -- Offering both a passionate defense of his policies and a populist pitch, President Obama told audience members in this economically struggling region Friday that he will continue fighting for them even in the face of stiffening political opposition.

With some top Democrats suggesting a temporary break from health-care negotiations after this week's stunning election of a Republican senator in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, Obama said he would still push for a plan, although his party no longer has a filibuster-proof majority.

"I am not going to walk away just because it's hard," Obama said before a cheering crowd in a field house at Lorain County Community College. "We're going to keep on working to get this done with Democrats, I hope also Republicans -- anyone who is willing to step up. Because I am not going to watch more people get crushed by costs, or denied the care they need by insurance company bureaucrats, or partisan politics, or special-interest power in Washington."

Apparently stung by the political turn of events that threatens to unravel his ambitious domestic agenda and his party's prospects in the midterm elections this fall, Obama explained that health-care reform was part of his effort to address the economic security that has been eroding for most middle-class Americans.

The reason he undertook the effort, Obama said, was to slow the fast growth in health-care costs while extending coverage to many of the 46 million Americans who lack insurance. "There are things that have to get done. This is our best chance to do it," he said. "We can't keep putting this off."

The day after Tuesday's Senate victory by Republican Scott Brown--who opposes the health-care legislation pending in Congress -- Obama seemed to suggest that lawmakers rally around a slimmed-down version of health-care reform just to make progress.

But Obama said Friday doing that would be difficult, given how various provisions in the legislation work together to make the reform effort economically feasible. For example, he said, it is impossible simply to require insurance companies to offer coverage to people with preexisting illness, because people would buy insurance only when they are sick, driving up rates for everyone. Consequently, he added, such a provision has to be accompanied by a requirement for everyone to buy insurance, which in turn requires subsidies for those who can't afford it.

Obama's appearance in Elyria, a half-hour west of Cleveland, is part of a White House effort to have the president make a visceral connection with voters suffering in the aftermath of the worst economic downturn since the Depression. He used much of his appearance here to frame his policies around the economic anxiety gripping many Americans, an approach that critics say is often lacking in the cool and pragmatic president.

"So long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I'll never stop fighting for you. I'll take my lumps, too," he said. "I'll never stop fighting to bring jobs back to Elyria."

Unemployment in Ohio is 10.9 percent -- nearly a full point above the national average--and this region in particular has seen a steep decline in heavy manufacturing.

The area has tried to bounce back by developing more health-care jobs, some specialized manufacturing work, and most recently by emphasizing clean-energy jobs--something that Obama has supported with billions of dollars of tax breaks and grants. He visited a specialized machine shop and a community college class that trains people to maintain wind turbines, which provide a tiny but fast-growing part of the region's energy.

Obama offered no new programs during his prepared remarks or in answers to audience questions, but the urgency of his job-creation message was striking.

He called on Congress to complete work on a jobs bill that would extend tax breaks and put new money into infrastructure, home weatherization and renewable energy. Just a few months ago, members of Congress were pushing him to be more vocal in his support of a jobs bill -- something the White House was not sure was necessary at the time.

Obama also explained his unpopular moves to put up hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money to bail out banks and General Motors and Chrysler, saying that without help the domestic automobile industry would have shed hundreds of thousands of additional jobs and the failing banks could have dragged the nation into "a second Great Depression."

The president continued the combative tone he has struck with Wall Street in recent weeks. He said about the tax he has proposed for large banks that are making huge profits and paying big bonuses just a year after being saved by government bailouts: "We want our money back."

He did not mention that the biggest banks had paid back their bailout money, often with the government reaping a profit, although that has not been the case with the large insurer AIG or the auto companies.

Obama also shot back at political opponents who say that he is presiding over a massive increase in the size of government. "What kind of big government are we trying to perpetrate?" Obama asked rhetorically. "People need help. We need to provide them a helping hand."

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