Obama on healthcare: Passing a big bill is always 'messy'

Jim Young/Reuters
President Barack Obama takes part in a live interview on Michael Smerconish's radio program in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House on Thursday.

In an interview today with Philadelphia radio host Michael Smerconish, President Barack Obama pledged to keep pushing for consensus on healthcare reform, while noting that "passing a big bill like this is always messy." The White House's choice of Smerconish was widely seen as an attempt to reach out to Republicans -- although Smerconish did support Obama in the '08 presidential elections, many of his listeners lean to the right.

"The type of Republican Michael represents is a moderate type," political consultant Larry Ceisler told the Los Angeles Times before the interview. "So if they can make a case to the middle, which Michael represents, then you have the right wing somewhat isolated." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs took a more practical -- and less partisan -- tack: "Obviously, a tremendous number of people get their news from radio and they are listening," he said earlier today. "Obviously, this is a very popular show."

So how did the interview go? Well, as Anne E. Kornblut notes in the Washington Post, Obama spent much of his time defending his healthcare proposal. Speaking on the public vs. private issue, for instance, Obama said, "The press got a little excited, and some folks on the left got a little excited. Our position on this hasn't changed." Over the past few days, Obama appeared to be distancing himself from the so-called “public option," which would put the government-run program in direct competition with private insurers.

In fact, Obama said, "What we've said is there are a number of components of health care. One is that for people who already have health insurance, they can keep their health insurance, but we're going to have some consumer protections to regulate how insurers operate." Obama stood behind Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's assertion that a public option was not an "essential element" of the plan.

The interview, which took place in the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor of the White House, lasted roughly 20 minutes, and included several questions from Smerconish's listeners. At one point, Obama directly addressed his skeptics, pointing out that past presidents had encountered resistance from voters.

"You know, passing a big bill like this is always messy. FDR was called a socialist when he passed Social Security," he said. "JFK and Lyndon Johnson, they were both accused of a government takeover of health care when they passed Medicare. This is the process that we go through -- because, understandably, the American people have a long tradition of being suspicious of government, until the government actually does something that helps them, and then they don't want anybody messing with whatever gets set up."

Obama also spoke to a range of issues, including Cash for Clunkers, which he called "successful beyond anybody's imagination. And we're now slightly victims of success because the thing happened so quick, there was so much more demand than anybody expected, that dealers were overwhelmed with applications," Obama said.


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