President Barack Obama’s advisers are urging critics of their health care overhaul to wait for Congress to finish writing legislation before issuing verdicts. They also signaled they are willing to wait longer than their White House-imposed August deadline for action if it means they can sway wary lawmakers.
The White House spent Sunday defending Obama’s health care proposals and stressing that Congress has not yet written the final draft of legislation that would dramatically reshape how Americans receive health care. Instead, they said, Republicans — and even some Democrats — should wait until a final bill takes form.
"There are basically five different plans in Congress right now and there are a variety of ways," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, trying to calm nervous lawmakers whose re-elections could hinge on the legislation.
"More will be done," she said. "The House and the Senate are committed to working with the president to get this done."
Getting it done by August, though, appeared to be pushed back. Administration officials said they still have a goal for the Senate and the House to pass separate bills before an August recess, leaving reconciliation of their differences for September or later. But they slid away from a once-firm do-it-this-summer demand.
"We think we can make that. We’re working towards that," White House budget director Peter Orszag said. "And we have to remember, there are some who are advocating the delay simply because they don’t have anything to put on the table. … There are those who are advocating delay just as a desperation move to try to kill this."
The United States is the only developed nation that does not have a comprehensive national health care plan for all its citizens, and Obama campaigned on a promise to offer affordable health care to all Americans. However, the recession and a deepening budget deficit have made it difficult to win support for costly new programs.
"The House has one approach. We put forward a different approach. The Senate is considering yet more options," Orszag said. "The key thing is we need to get there in a way that is deficit neutral."
Paying for the health care plan remains the major challenge, underscored by a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report that emerging House legislation would increase deficits by $239 billion over a decade.
"I don’t follow why we’ve got to spend another $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, most people estimate, on top of the $2.5 trillion we’re already spending in this country and yet still have, under one estimate, at least 33 million people without health insurance," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "I mean, these are things that are real serious problems."
Democrats insisted the budget analysis ignores savings and Obama’s pledge not to add red ink to the federal ledger.
"It’s clear that they’re working with different assumptions than the White House and the Congress is," said Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House tax-writing committee.
Even so, the politics of adding to the deficit or raising taxes is tricky. Obama officials have refused to rule out a tax on the wealthiest Americans and oppose a tax on employer-provided health care benefits.
Overhauling health care won’t come cheap.
Republicans paint Obama’s proposals as a massive tax that would leave small businesses wounded, employers shifting away from private plans toward a government-based system and workers without coverage. Obama’s advisers have argued that revamping health care is vital to the nation’s long-term economic recovery.
Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican party, is accusing Obama of conducting "risky experimentation" with his health care proposals, saying they will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverage.
In remarks prepared for delivery at the National Press Club, Steele also said the president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key committee chairman are part of a "cabal" that wants to implement government-run health care.
Obama has repeatedly said he does not favor a government-run health care system. Legislation taking shape in the House envisions private insurance companies selling coverage in competition with the government.
Sebelius appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press." Orszag spoke with "Fox News Sunday" and CNN’s "State of the Union." Hatch and Rangel appeared on CBS’ "Face the Nation."