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Obama in Maine: Health-care law lifts 'burdens' off middle class
"If they want a fight, I welcome a fight," he said to cheers.
But Obama also cast the law, which his administration celebrated as historic on the day he signed it, in more modest terms, as he has in recent public appearances.
"What this reform represents is basically a middle-of-the-road solution to a very serious problem," he said, arguing that it falls between the single-payer system favored by the left wing of his party and the loosening of regulations favored by some on the right.
"This reform will not solve every problem with our health-care system," he said. "It will not bring down the cost of health care overnight. We'll have to make some adjustments along the way. But it represents enormous progress."
The White House billed the event as an opportunity for Obama to describe the law's benefits to small businesses, many of which are struggling through the recession. He told the audience that "millions of small-business owners" will now qualify for tax credits to help them defray the health insurance costs of employees.
Obama cited the example of a Maine business owner who must choose between offering his part-time employees either health insurance benefits or more hours, unable to do both because of cost. He said the business owner will qualify for tax credits under the new law that will now pay for up to 35 percent of the employees' health insurance costs.
The White House said that tax credit will rise to 50 percent by 2014, when the law is fully phased in. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the tax credit will save small businesses $40 billion by 2019.
Republicans dispute those claims, arguing that businesses will see health insurance costs rise under the new law. Some large corporations have already announced that they will have to write off tens of millions of dollars in the coming years because of the law's elimination of tax deductions for Medicare prescription drug subsidies.
In a statement issued Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said, "The timing couldn't be worse for a bill that will make it even harder to create private-sector jobs, and harder for small businesses to comply with the dozens of new federal boards and a thicket of new rules and regulations."
"Washington should be making it easier to hire and to expand, rather than making it more expensive to grow the workforce or their employees' paychecks," McConnell said.
After his speech here, Obama made an unannounced stop in Framingham, Mass., for a briefing from Gov. Deval Patrick about the state's flood recovery efforts.
Obama was scheduled to travel to Boston to speak at a pair of fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee.