The Monday morning speech at the National Press Club was part of a renewed Republican media offensive aimed at slowing – and thus perhaps stopping -- Obama's health care reform effort as it enters a critical phase.
“I think we all need to stop and get serious about what we are confronting here and stop playing this Washington game of Russian roulette," Steele said
Sagging support for the Obama plan
The Obama administration is pushing for action on health care reform legislation before Congress departs for its early August recess. The push is running into concerns on Capitol Hill about cost and complexity as well as sagging public support.
A new ABC News-Washington Post poll reported that since April approval of the President’s handling of health care has slipped from 57 percent to 49 percent. Disapproval of his handling of the issue rose from 29 percent to 44 percent.
The Republican National Committee’s campaign targets that growing sense of voter unease. “We are not going to get this done effectively and well in the next ten days,” Steele said.
When asked if the Obama health care plan represented socialism, Steele replied, "yes, next question."
Web warnings about a spending spree
The outspoken party chairman announced the launch of a new website which criticizes the Obama admistration for “the biggest spending spree in our nation’s history.” While showing video of young people, the commercial says the Obama administration’s health plan “risks their future and our health.” Republican officials told the Associated Press the party would supplement Steele’s speech with TV advertising designed to oppose what it sees as government run health care.
President Obama has called for a public option to be included among the health insurance choices Americans have. Steele said that for a private health plan to have to compete with insurance backed by the government is “like an alligator competing with a chicken.”
A made for TV morning
Monday morning’s speech was a made for television event. The chilly and cavernous Holeman Lounge Room at the press club contained seven TV cameras, including one for C-SPAN. But there were several rows of narly empty seats as some 25 people – including a number of RNC staffers – showed up on a Monday morning during prime Washington vacation season.
The GOP chairman offered some Republican alternatives for dealing with the costs of care, which he said was the health system’s major problem. These included instituting a one page health insurance reimbursement form, posting insurance plan details on line, controlling frivolous lawsuits, and encouraging greater use of paperless medical record keeping systems.
But when asked about some of the specific tough choices legislators face, Steele demurred. On the issue of requiring individuals to buy insurance coverage Steele said, “I don’t do policy. I am not a legislator. My point in coming here today is to set a tone, a theme, if you will, an approach to addressing this issue...that is centered on real people.”
Fear was at least one element of his tone. “This reckless approach is an ill-conceived attempt to push through an experiment and all of us should be scared to death. So Slow down Mr. President, we can’t afford to get health care wrong,” Steele said.