60 Minutes Gives Obama Yet Another Platform, At Least Challenges Him a Bit

60 Minutes on Sunday night gave President Barack Obama at least his fourth interview platform since his election (not counting re-runs), and while Steve Kroft framed the segment around how Obama “seemed confident that he had succeeded” in his Wednesday night speech and asked him, in the context of how the health care debate “has brought out the worst in us,” how “you were heckled. Not at a town meeting. Not on the campaign trail, but in a joint session of Congress,” whether “Congressman Wilson should be rebuked?,” he also gently challenged Obama from the right. Unfortunately, Kroft did not follow up when Obama delivered his usual liberal platitudes.  

After Obama touted how he had reached out to Republicans on tort reform, Kroft pressed: “Would you be willing to do more in the area of tort reform and malpractice insurance? Would you be willing to agree to caps, for example, on malpractice judgments?” Kroft raised how to pay for it all: “There is still a great deal of skepticism about how this plan is going to be paid for. What you promised is essentially you promised not to affect anybody who has coverage now at all. You have promised to add another 30 million people into the system and you're saying that you can do all of this or want to do all this without impacting or increasing the deficit by a dime. How do you do that?”

Obama's uncontested reply:
Well, here's how we do it. We spend over $2 trillion on healthcare every year. So we spend more per person on healthcare in this country than any other country by far. So if we can just make some small changes that make the system more efficient, the waste and abuse, the money that's already being spent that's not making people healthier, that money can go to provide a better deal for those without insurance. And, over time, can actually reduce the cost for those who already have health insurance.
To which, all Kroft observed was that “there are thousands of details to be worked out, not to mention dozens of political deals, making it nearly impossible to accurately predict how much all of this might cost.”

To Obama's consternation, Kroft reminded the President: “You ran for this job saying that you were not a big spending liberal, and that you were definitely under no circumstances a socialist. [Obama laughs] And I know that you inherited a unique set of circumstances. But in nine months, you've in effect nationalized two automobile companies, sections of the banking industry.”

Obama cut Kroft off with “Ah, wait a minute” and “hold on, time out a second.”

CBSNews.com online version of the story.

Kroft set up the interview segment:
This past week was a crucial one in the young presidency of Barack Obama. With public support for health care reform and his administration in decline, the President decided to regain control over the debate with a speech before a joint session of Congress. With concessions to intransigent Republicans, reinforcement for wavering Democrats, and even a few specifics for skeptical citizens, the President hoped to resuscitate plans for an overhaul of the medical system. And when we spoke with him on Friday at the White House he seemed confident that he had succeeded.
All of Kroft's questions aired in the interview which led the September 13 edition of 60 Minutes:
- Before you made this speech there was a sense, clearly in the press and among people in Washington, that this program was in trouble. Do you think you changed some minds? Do you think you picked up some votes this week?

- You're not getting much support from the Republicans and you've got some problems with people in your own party. Do you have enough votes to get a healthcare bill passed right now?

- One of the things that you said when you ran for President was that one of your talents was to be able to get people in a room with divergent opinions who were yelling and screaming at each other, get them to sit down and come to an agreement. Have you tried that on healthcare?...Why hasn't it worked?

- If it came down to getting this plan passed, would you be willing to do more in the area of tort reform and malpractice insurance? Would you be willing to agree to caps, for example, on malpractice judgments?

- And the conventional wisdom has been that the reason that the House has always voted against any kind of malpractice reform or tort reform was because of the heavy contributions from the trial lawyers.

- There is still a great deal of skepticism about how this plan is going to be paid for. What you promised is essentially you promised not to affect anybody who has coverage now at all. You have promised to add another 30 million people into the system and you're saying that you can do all of this or want to do all this without impacting or increasing the deficit by a dime. How do you do that?

- You ran for this job saying that you were not a big spending liberal, and that you were definitely under no circumstances a socialist. [Obama laughs] And I know that you inherited a unique set of circumstances. But in nine months, you've in effect nationalized two automobile companies, sections of the banking industry-

- But after doing all this, and continuing the policies, and spending incredible amounts of money, now you're changing the health care system. I get the sense out there politically that some people are just sort of worn out. I mean, there's been so much change. And so much that people have sort of, that people are fatigued. And that you have to do all of this.

- You were -- people ask you this question -- "Do we need to do all of this? Can't we scale some of this back?" And you could've said, "Yeah, let's scale it back." But you didn't.

- I was talking to my CBS colleague, Bob Schieffer this morning. And we were talking about 9/11 and he the sense of unity he felt in the country on that day, and was comparing that to the situation we have now. When you were, I mean, you were heckled. Not at a town meeting. Not on the campaign trail, but in a joint session of Congress. Were you surprised?

- Do you think that Congressman Wilson should be rebuked? There was talk about that today, and now he's claiming that he is a victim. That he's being attacked.

- I think Bob Schieffer's point was that, I think he thought that in some ways, this debate has brought out the worst in us. Not the best.

- So, your goal to bring civility back to Washington is still a work in progress?
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center