A world-renowned clinic that President Obama held up as an example of good medicine said Monday that the American people would be “losers” under the House’s health care proposal, joining the growing chorus of critics the Obama administration is trying to fend off as the debate intensifies from Capitol Hill to Main Street.
Minnesota’s not-for-profit Mayo Clinic, which Mr. Obama has repeatedly hailed as offering top quality care at affordable costs, blasted the House Democrats’ version of the health care plan as lawmakers continue to grapple with several bills from each chamber and multiple committees.
The Mayo Clinic said there are some positive elements of the bill, but overall “the proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher quality, more affordable health care for patients.”
“In fact, it will do the opposite,” clinic officials said, because the proposals aren’t [R]patient-focused or results-oriented. “The real losers will be the citizens of the United States.”
All day, Republicans took aim at Mr. Obama’s weak spot as surveys showed that his poll numbers were slipping on the issue. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele charged that the president’s plan amounts to a “reckless experiment,” dubbing it “socialism.”
“He’s conducting a dangerous experiment with our health care,” Mr. Steele said at the National Press Club as the RNC started an ad campaign, which will run in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota using similar language.
In the Senate, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican considered key to grabbing some bipartisan support, warned that the House call to raise taxes on wealthier citizens and, therefore, some small businesses to fund the $1 trillion overhaul is a non-starter.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is floating an idea that could make proposed tax increases more palatable to the more fiscally conservative members of her party. She would like to limit income-tax increases to couples making more than $1 million a year and individuals making more than $500,000, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said Monday. The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee last week would increase taxes on couples making as little as $350,000 a year and individuals annually making as little as $280,000.
Mr. Obama is going all out to keep the national conversation focused on the need for reform and the political forces at play. He hit back at Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, for suggesting that health care should be the president’s “Waterloo.”
Without naming Mr. DeMint, Mr. Obama offered the Republican’s quote in a brief statement after a visit with health care providers at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.
“If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo, it will break him,” Mr. Obama said, quoting Mr. DeMint from a conference call last week with conservatives who oppose the health care plan.
“Think about that. This isn’t about me, this isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy,” Mr. Obama said Monday, on the six-month anniversary of his administration.
White House aides did not have a response to the criticism from the Mayo Clinic, which Republicans exploited. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, used his Twitter feed to spread the Mayo Clinic statement, adding: “They are right.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that Mr. Obama’s approval rate on how he’s handling health care has slipped below 50 percent for the first time. The president’s overall popularity has dipped just slightly.
Mr. Obama said Monday during an interview on PBS’ “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” that he wasn’t worried about the polls because he thinks they’ve “held up under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”
He also repeated his campaign stump line that health care has been discussed for decades but never reformed because of “special interests.”
On the tax issue, Mr. Obama told Mr. Lehrer that the wealthy can afford to pay more and that he understands there are different proposals floating about.
“The gap, though, is one that I think can be closed relatively easily if everybody is committed to making sure that we get this done,” he said.
Though it seemed Mr. Obama was backing off his August deadline, calling only for a bill to be done “this year,” he told NBC and Mr. Lehrer on Monday that without deadlines nothing gets done in Washington.
To regain control of the debate, Mr. Obama will hold an 8 p.m. news conference Wednesday and will go to a Cleveland high school Thursday for a health care town-hall meeting.
Monday’s back-and-forth comes as the big fight this week while senators struggle to come up with a way to pay for their plan and as House leaders battle conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the details.
On Capitol Hill, key committees in the House and Senate scrambled to sew up support. The House Energy and Commerce Committee met with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats who threatened to withhold support if they didn’t get cost-cutting measures and rural and small-business support into the House bill.
Lawmakers in both parties are getting antsy about the plan’s price tag as the country fights its fiscal woes. The director of the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ official scorekeeper, last week said the bills making their way through Congress would drive up government spending and wouldn’t curtail skyrocketing costs to consumers.
The Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan group of negotiators met again late Monday to try to craft a plan that would garner Republican support in the upper chamber, already blowing through deadlines set by the White House and party leadership.
Three Republicans and three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have come to agreement on four of the group’s previously unresolved issues, Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, told reporters late Monday. He declined to talk about specifics or to say when the group would have a complete reform bill.
“These are big issues,” he said of the group’s progress.
The committee is under pressure from the White House and Senate leadership to move more quickly. The committee staff met throughout the weekend, including with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter R. Orszag.
Meanwhile, outside players ramped up efforts to get their voices heard in the reform debate.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to announce an advertising campaign Tuesday, targeting the employer mandates in the House health care reform bill, which the group says would threaten the employer-based system.
The Democratic National Committee expanded its campaign to House members who are likely to cast pivotal votes on the reform bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Further complicating the president’s fiscal woes, the White House has delayed the release of its budget update. The update, initially planned for mid-July, is expected to show higher deficits and contrast the rosy forecast the administration released in February.
The release has been postponed until at least after Congress takes its summer break in early August.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday dismissed as “silly” any suggestion from reporters that the delay was abnormal, saying it’s happened because of “the transition of moving people in and out of their former and current jobs.”
He also noted that President George W. Bush did not release his budget update until Aug. 22 and President Clinton’s first review was released Sept. 1.