President Barack Obama admitted that there is not enough money in the system to pay for medical coverage for the 46 million Americans who have none, and that to bridge the gap additional taxes will probably have to be levied on the nation’s wealthiest citizens.
The president focused on health care reform during a wide-ranging interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira that aired Tuesday. But he also covered subjects both trivial (his choice of jeans to wear to the All-Star Game) and deeply individual: a father’s five-year international battle to regain rightful custody of his son, and an American soldier being held captive in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
Obama has told Congress he wants a universal health care plan before the nation’s lawmakers leave town for their traditional August recess. Given the enormous complexity and cost of the proposals being floated in the corridors of power, Vieira asked why the president is so insistent on a hard deadline.
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“Because if you don’t set a deadline in this town, nothing happens,” Obama replied. “The default in Washington is inaction and inertia. And there’s a reason why we haven’t had health care reform in 50 years. The deadline’s not being set by me; the deadline’s being set by the American people.”
Some Republicans have grabbed on the President’s crusade and made it a political battleground, with Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina going so far as to say, “If we are able to stop Obama on this, in new health care reform, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”
When Vieira repeated that comment, Obama laughed.
“This is all about politics,” he explained. “That describes exactly an attitude that we’ve got to overcome, because what folks have in their minds is that, somehow, this is about me. It’s about politics and the ability to win back the House of Representatives. And people are thinking back to 1993 when President Clinton wasn’t able to get health care, and, right after that, the House Republicans won.”
The president agreed that he has a lot invested personally in achieving health care reform, but he also said that other Americans have a lot more at stake than he does.
“This is not as important to me as it is to the people who don’t have health care. I’ve got health care,” Obama told Vieira. “This isn’t as important to me as the family that’s gone bankrupt because they got a bunch of medical bills that they thought the insurance companies had covered that turned out they weren’t covered. So, yes, absolutely, I am deeply invested in getting this thing done. But this isn’t Washington sport. This isn’t about who’s up and who’s down. This is about solving an enormous problem for the American people.”