- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

During a round of five Sunday-morning talk-show appearances, President Obama defended a health reform proposal that would require all Americans to carry health insurance, and rejected the idea that his critics’ anger over his plans is based on race.

Mr. Obama, who opposed the insurance mandate during the presidential election, now finds himself defending the measure against lawmakers who worry that the exemptions written into the requirement won’t relieve enough poor Americans of the cost.

“What it’s saying is, is that we’re not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you any more than the fact that right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance,” Mr. Obama said on ABC’s “This Week” during his talk-show blitz. “People say to themselves, that is a fair way to make sure that, if you hit my car, that I’m not covering all the costs.”

Mr. Obama made appearances on NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and Univision in an attempt to regain direction in the health care debate as it reaches a critical stage. On Tuesday, debate is set to begin in the Senate Finance Committee, the last of five congressional panels required to pass a reform bill before it reaches a vote on the full House or Senate floor.

“The key is now to just narrow the differences,” Mr. Obama said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But those differences are not that small. Divisions remain on the government-funded public insurance plan and how to pay for the reform plans.

And now, the insurance mandate is being criticized by lawmakers and Americans who say that the cost of coverage will amount to a new tax that would violate the president’s campaign pledge against imposing new taxes on Americans who make under $250,000. Mr. Obama said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he would keep the promise and that the cost of the bill — which he wants to come in at $900 billion — can be covered with savings from the current health care system.

“My critics say everything is a tax increase,” Mr. Obama said on “This Week.” “For us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.”

The mandate is designed to ensure that all Americans get preventive care measures and protect doctors and hospitals from having to eat the costs of emergency coverage for the uninsured. Analysts say that those costs are then shifted to consumers who have insurance, further driving up costs.

Republicans view Tuesday’s session in the Finance Committee as their last chance to stop or dramatically change Democrats’ health care reform plans. Democrats, not entirely happy with the more moderate Finance bill, want to change the legislation but not so much that Mr. Obama’s top legislative priority stalls.

Mr. Obama said in an interview on Univision that he would like some Republican votes.

“But I don’t count on them,” he said. “And I’m confident that we’re gonna get health care passed.”

Mr. Obama also said Sunday that he doesn’t agree with recent comments from former President Jimmy Carter that “an overwhelming portion” of the criticism over health care is based on the president’s race.

“This debate that is taking place is not about race. It’s about people being worried about how our government should operate,” he said. “I do think we all have an obligation to try to conduct this conversation in a very civil way.”

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said that angry rhetoric over health care reminds her of violent language in San Francisco in the 1970s, when the assassinations of two gay rights supporters were linked to violent rhetoric.

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