News / USA

Obama To Sign Health Bill, Intensify Work on Other Agenda Items


After Sunday's historic vote in the House of Representatives on legislation to reform the U.S. health care system, President Obama is embarking, with some new political capital, on a path that attempts to focus Americans on advantages health care reform will bring, while he works on other important agenda issues.  Opposition Republicans have launched efforts to repeal the health care legislation, but the president plans more cross-country travel to deliver his message after he signs the bill on Tuesday.

Even before the 219 to 212 vote, White House aides were going out of their way to underscore the importance President Obama places on moving ahead with other aspects of his agenda, including such things as U.S. financial system reform.

A week ago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs made clear the president's determination to forge ahead, responding this way to a reporter asking if various political costs of passing health care reform might impair efforts to pass other objectives such as financial system reform.

"The American people, their [members of Congress] constituents, are not going to accept that a disagreement that was had in March affects your ability to institute stronger rules of the road on Wall Street in September," said Robert Gibbs.

The president signs the main health care reform bill on Tuesday, but the U.S. Senate must still consider changes to the measure.  Democrats hope for passage of these using a procedure enabling approval with a 51 vote simple majority.

Republicans have launched rhetorical and legislative challenges designed to weaken public support the White House may be able to gain on health care.  The bill also faces legal challenges in some U.S. states.

On Thursday, the president goes to Iowa, where he first laid out his health care reform plan in 2007, and where his victory in Democratic caucuses in 2008 boosted his presidential campaign.

Gibbs was asked on Monday if the political atmosphere had been poisoned by what has at times been a vicious debate over health care, possibly threatening chances for progress on other major agenda items.

"[On] financial reform, on campaign finance, on getting our economy moving again, all of the host of issues, immigration reform and energy, that we have talked about still being on the docket, I think the president will continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans that want to make a positive effort on these issues," he said.

During the year-long health care debate the president and his advisors denied, particularly in response to Republican criticisms about the cost and size of legislation, that they were diverting from the difficult tasks of economic recovery and job growth.

With an eye toward avoiding losses in the November mid-term congressional elections, the White House now faces the challenge of sharpening further its focus on recovery and financial system reform, and gauging how to move ahead on the question of immigration.

Vice President Joe Biden will continue to play a key role, and used an appearance with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to underscore how  middle class Americans have been helped by tax breaks and other steps implemented in the first year President Obama has been in office.

"For President Obama and for me and for the whole team here, this was part of a goal that we set out when we first took office," said Vice President Biden. "It wasn't  just to rebuild the economy which was self-evidently necessary but also as we rebuilt the economy to rebuild the middle class."

On health care, Republicans are focusing on what they assert was arrogance on the part of the president and Democrats in pushing legislation that, according to many polls, Americans generally opposed, although polls also show strong public support for specific provisions of the measure.

On the floor of the House of Representatives, Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann predicted eventual repeal of health care reform,  bringing this response from California Democrat Bob Filner.

BACHMANN: "This Fall will take back a constitutional conservative majority and after the next presidential election, we will repeal this bill."

FILNER: "Ms. Bachmann, it's time to chill out, it's time to chill out.  Government takeover of the health care system?  Let it go!  The private insurance companies are still in charge.  Your private doctor is still in charge.  You have the choice of where you want to go, what hospital you want to do."

In attempting to blunt Republican criticisms, President Obama and Democratic party leaders will have to focus on specific provisions of the health care legislation that will go into effect immediately, and as Gibbs said on Monday work to ensure they are implemented speedily and efficiently.

Asked what lesson the health care debate had delivered for the president, White House spokesman Gibbs said President Obama learned that he is willing to make very tough decisions and see [them] through.  

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