- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

President Obama will not “draw a line in the sand” during the health care debate as he attempts to pass sweeping health and climate legislation this year, his top political adviser said Sunday.

Senior White House political adviser David Axelrod said the president wants legislation with a “robust” public option and would not rule out the possibility of levying a new tax on health benefits to pay for the plan, despite Mr. Obama’s vigorous attack on Republican John McCain during the presidential campaign for making that very proposal.

Still, Mr. Axelrod emphasized flexibility from the White House.

“Well, look, as I said, we’ve not gotten as far as we’ve gotten by drawing bright lines in the sands,” Mr. Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“One of the problems we’ve had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other,” he said. “And you don’t get anything done. That’s not the way the president” wants to work with Congress.

“The important thing at this point,” he said, “is to keep the process moving, to keep people at the table, to the keep the discussions going.”

The ranking Republican on the Senate committee that has been directing the health care debate said Sunday that Republican and Democratic lawmakers would prefer not to pass health care legislation with a new tax.

“And we want to bring money from within health care, reshuffle it,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “So we’re going to get money from the high-end health insurance policies, and then we’re going to save hundreds of millions of dollars within Medicare that’s being wasted.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama called Mr. McCain’s insurance-tax proposal “the largest middle-class tax increase in history.” He also pledged that if he were elected, “no one making less than $250,000 a year will see any type of tax increase … not income tax, not capital gains taxes, not any kind of tax.”

Mr. Grassley pointed out that Republicans therefore will be reluctant to back any such plan unless Mr. Obama gets out front and sells such a tax increase.

“Since the president denigrated John McCain’s effort to move in this direction during the campaign, it’s going to take, in order to win over Republicans, presidential leadership in that direction,” the Iowan said.

To help sell his plan, Mr. Obama scheduled a town hall-style meeting Wednesday in Annandale, planning to take questions from a live audience and from online sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Other Republican leaders have blasted any plan to revamp the nation’s health care system that inserts the government into the marketplace.

“What they really have in mind is to create a government-run plan after which there won’t be any private insurance companies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Right now we have a whole lot of private insurance companies and a whole lot of competition. That would eliminate that.”

The White House has made passing health care legislation its top priority this year, though Mr. Obama is also pushing hard to pass climate legislation in the Senate later this year.

“Understand that both of these issues, energy and health care, have languished for a long time,” Mr. Axelrod said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “And the president believes that we have to deal with these issues in order to build a stronger foundation for our economy in the future.”

The House passed a sweeping climate-change bill by a narrow, 219-212 vote margin late Friday. The legislation, which opponents say amounts to a new tax, is expected to face an even harder time in the Senate, where Republicans can attempt a filibuster and where party discipline is weaker than in the House.

Mr. Obama used his weekly radio address to lobby the Senate to take up climate legislation this fall.

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