- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Saturday he’s seeing “unprecedented consensus” behind overhauling the U.S. health care system, though he acknowledged continued partisan gridlock in Congress.

Obama has made the issue his top domestic priority, staking his presidency on pushing through the most sweeping makeover of the U.S. health care system in a half-century.

“The historic movement to bring real, meaningful health insurance reform to the American people gathered momentum this week as we approach the final days of this debate,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet video address.

The consensus “includes everyone from doctors and nurses to hospitals and drug manufacturers” — even Republican governors and former lawmakers, Obama said.

It does not extend to congressional Republicans, however, as nearly all of them oppose the Democrats’ health care proposals.

The president, instead, noted that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Bill Frist, all Republicans, and former Health and Human Service Secretaries Louis Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, who both served in Republican administrations, have all come out in favor of overhauling health care, even though they differ on some specifics.

“These distinguished leaders understand that health insurance reform isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution,” Obama said.

Democrats have made significant strides since early September, when they returned to Washington after an August spent absorbing attacks from noisy conservative critics over health care.

A health care bill soon to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee is the only one judged to meet Obama’s conditions for expanding insurance coverage without raising the federal deficit, while also slowing the rise in medical costs.

Yet Obama said he recognized the issue remains divisive among members of Congress.

“There are some in Washington today who seem determined to play the same old partisan politics, working to score political points, even if it means burdening this country with an unsustainable status quo,” Obama said. That “status quo” includes rising health care costs, diminishing coverage and arbitrary decisions by big insurance companies, he said.

Speaking for the Republicans, Sen. George LeMieux of Florida acknowledged deep problems with the health care system, but cautioned “the solution should not be worse than the problem we are trying to solve.”

“We in the Congress have a duty to tackle this problem, but the solution we settle upon should not be rushed,” LeMieux said in the Republican Party’s weekly address. Democrats maintain Republicans are simply trying to delay action.

Lemieux said the Democrats’ approach:

— costs $1.8 trillion over 10 years, more than twice the total for the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, as projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

— Adds a new tax burden by penalizing those who do not buy health insurance.

— Denies millions of people the choice of health plans that best suit their needs by forcing them onto government benefits for the poor.

— Takes about $500 billion out of government benefits for the elderly.

“Taking money from a program already in financial trouble is not responsible,” LeMieux said. “It’s not fair to our seniors who paid into the program, and it’s not fair to our children and grandchildren who will be burdened with massive debt obligations.”

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