President Barack Obama strongly backed the Senate’s version of sweeping legislation to remake US health care, as the bill drew fire ahead of its all-but-certain passage on Christmas Eve.
Obama told the Washington Post in an interview he was “not just grudgingly supporting the bill” and that the measure achieved “95 percent” of the goals he laid out during his 2008 White House bid and a major speech in September.
“We don’t feel that the core elements to help the American people have been compromised in any significant way,” the US president said. “I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved.”
His comments came as Senate leaders unveiled a deal to hold final votes on the bill starting at 8 am (1300 GMT) Christmas Eve, rather than 7 pm (0000 GMT Friday) or later, cheering weary staff eager to spend the holiday at home.
With passage essentially assured, attention turned to future negotiations aimed at forging a compromise between the Senate bill and the House of Representatives version, approved November 7.
The two measures differ on several key points, and some high-profile progressives among Obama’s Democratic allies have openly preferred the House version, setting up an intra-Democratic battle if they hold their ground.
One potential battle looms over the Senate’s decision to strip the bill of a government-backed “public option” to compete with private insurers.
Another fight is likely over the House’s tougher restrictions on federal funds subsidizing abortions, with pro-choice lawmakers denouncing the limits and centrist Democrats saying they will abandon the bill without them.
Centrist Senators, without whom the bill lacks the 60 votes needed to ensure passage, have warned that they will doom the measure if the House-Senate talks lead to drastic changes to the upper chamber’s hard-won compromise.
“I don’t see having a lot of adjustments on the Senate bill being satisfactory,” said one of the swing-voters, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson, warning against any compromise that could be “a deal-breaker.”
Nelson’s support was vital, as Democrats need all 58 of their number and their two independent allies to corral the 60 votes needed to break through any parliamentary delays invoked by the White House’s Republican foes.
Facing an insurrection on his left flank, Obama insisted the Senate bill had most of what he wanted, underlined that he had not embraced the public option in the 2008 campaign, and pleaded for Democrats to accept the compromise.
“Do these pieces of legislation have exactly everything I want? Of course not. But they have the things that are necessary to reduce costs for businesses, families and the government,” said Obama.
Candidate Obama’s health plan did include “a public health insurance option,” though it was not central to his overall campaign pitch.
The president on Monday sought to rebut critics who say the cash-strapped United States cannot afford the 10-year, nearly-one-trillion dollar program to extend coverage to 31 million of the 36 million Americans who lack it now. Key provisions in US Senate health overhaul
Obama pointed to estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found the bill would reduce the deficit by 132 billion dollars over the first 10 years and as much as 1.3 trillion in the next 10.
The legislation would create insurance exchanges where Americans could buy health coverage, helped along by government subsidies for low-income workers. It would also require most individuals to have coverage on penalty of a fine.
And it would ultimately forbid private insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, end a lifetime cap on benefits, and allow children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ coverage.
The United States is the world’s richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all of its citizens.
Washington spends more than double the amounts Britain, France and Germany do per person on health care, but lags behind other countries in life expectancy and infant mortality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).