News

Obama Faces Political Challenges on Health Care, Afghanistan

Multimedia

Audio

President Barack Obama faces a major political test in the weeks ahead as opinion polls show fading public support for his top two priorities - health care reform and the war in Afghanistan.  

Health care reform remains President Obama's top domestic priority.

But recent public opinion polls show that a growing number of Americans disapprove of his handling of the health care issue, and that in turn has emboldened Republicans trying to block reform efforts in Congress.

"Obama, while a glib and smooth speaker, is not particularly persuasive," said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard magazine.  "And so he is having trouble selling this health care policy, which is unpopular, but it is also dragging him down," he said.

Reform supporters found themselves on the defensive during the congressional August recess when opponents used town hall forums with lawmakers around the country to complain about the Obama plan.

"I do not have a problem and I do not know anybody who has a problem.  But the 'boogey man' Obama is trying to state that we have a problem, and he wants to tax us," said an opponent.

The president is now attempting to regain the political momentum in the health care debate by trying to reassure the public.

"For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary, what is truly risky, is if we do nothing," he said.

Some recent surveys show the president's overall approval rating at or just above 50 percent - a far cry from higher numbers in the early days of his administration.

Tom DeFrank is a longtime political observer with the New York Daily News and regular guest on VOA's Issues in the News program:

"It is very clear that he has lost control of the agenda," he said. "You get a feeling that events are pulling him along rather than him the situation now.  He has had a bad summer.  His [poll] numbers are down, health care is in peril and he has not been able to work his will on his own [Democratic] party, much less the opposition Republicans."

Political experts say the stakes in the health care debate are huge, not only for President Obama, but also for congressional Democrats who will defend their House and Senate seats in next year's midterm congressional elections.

Former President Bill Clinton knows firsthand about the political consequences of failing to enact health care reform.  Republicans blocked his reform plans early in his presidency and used the issue to retake control of the House and the Senate in the 1994 congressional elections.

"We need to pass a bill.  It needs to be the best bill we can possibly get through Congress.  But doing nothing is not only the worse thing we can do for the economy and the worst thing we can do for health care, it is the worst thing we can do for the Democrats and don't you think the Republicans do not know it," said Mr. Clinton.

Analysts say that Republicans have had some success in raising doubts about the Obama health care initiative by focusing on the impact of the plan on the growing federal budget deficit and by raising the specter of too much government interference in the health care sector.

"And Republicans have really won this message war by tying the issue of health care to spending.  Their chief concerns with this are, number one, the price tag of whatever proposal that Democrats are creating and, number two, the concern that their own health care will not be the same as it was before a bill gets passed," said David Wasserman, who  is with The Cook Political Report and a recent guest on VOA's Encounter program.

The intensity of the health care debate will pick up next week when Congress returns to work after its summer break.

In addition to health care, the Obama administration appears to be facing a growing problem with domestic support for the war in Afghanistan.

A recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post newspaper found that 51 percent of those surveyed believe the war is not worth fighting, compared with 47 percent who support it.

Matthew Duss is with the Center for American Progress.  He says the discontent in Congress and among the public could grow unless the war effort begins to go better.

"If he does not show some progress and it just seems like we are getting deeper and deeper into an occupation and a counter-insurgency effort without any positive news for a number of months, I think he could face some real opposition," he said.

The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said in a report released this week that the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but that success is achievable.   

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs