CBS Sees Defensive Obama on Offense Over Health Care

Harry Smith and Bill Plante, CBS While President Obama’s health care plan seemed to be floundering, Tuesday’s CBS Early Show spun it as an opportunity for him to fight back, as co-host Julie Chen declared: "President Obama pushes back hard against critics of his health care plan as hopes fade it could be passed by August."

Co-host Harry Smith kept up the theme of Obama fighting back in the later segment: "First, though, the fight over health care is becoming a very bitter pill. President Obama goes on the offensive today, not only against Republicans, but also some members of his own party."

Following Smith’s introduction, correspondent Bill Plante reported: "It's game on in the effort to find health care reform. The President has been six months on the job and he now faces his first major battle with Congress. And as you said, not just with Republicans, he's calling in some Democrats today on the House committee to do a little arm twisting, or persuading I think they'd call it."

Plante did acknowledge the falling popularity of the President’s health care plan: "Recent polling shows a dramatic drop in the President's approval rating on health care, reflecting public concern about what it may cost..." However Plante quickly assigned blame to Obama’s critics: "...fueled by opponents of the plan. The President says reform will save money and accuses Republicans of practicing the politics of delay and defeat."

After playing a clip of the President denying that health care reform was about politics, Plante pointed out: "But both sides are playing politics and with a vengeance." However, he only referenced Republican partisanship: "This new Republican ad targets voters in states whose members of Congress are uncommitted." While Plante played a portion of the Republican ad, he failed to show an ad from the left that played on people’s fears about health care.

Despite Obama claiming that health care was not about him, Plante concluded his report by explaining that White House officials: "...admit here that there's no easy way to pay for the kind of health care reform the President wants, but they say he's going to keep at it 24/7. As one of them put it to me yesterday, ‘do you realize how competitive he is?’"

After Plante’s report, Smith interviewed Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and wondered: "The President describes the need for health care reform as ‘urgent and indisputable.’ Would you challenge that?" Steele replied: " No, I wouldn't. It is urgent, and it is indisputable. But the problem that I have with it is the rush that is underway here. This excessive, you know, push to get it done in two weeks...How do you do that in two weeks?"

Smith interrupted, arguing: "Although this has been – although committee members have been working on this for weeks and weeks and weeks through the summer." He went on to press Steele on a Republican plan: "Do Republicans have the best way to control or curb costs?...Should everyone be insured?"

Steele responded: "Absolutely. And you've got 47 million people right now who do not have insurance. Out of 310 million Americans, 47 million of them do not have insurance. So let's focus on how we get insurance into the hands of those 47 million without undoing what most Americans, some close to 70% to 80% believe is a good access that they have to health care."

In his final question to Steele, Smith cited comments by Senator Jim DeMint and wondered if Republicans were just playing politics: "Is it more important for Republicans to defeat health care as it stands right now, or is it more important to defeat the President on this issue, as Jim Demint seems to suggest?" Steele countered: "Yeah, well first off, this is not about the President personally or otherwise. It's not about Jim DeMint. It is about putting in place a health care strategy that we can move forward from, knowing that we've got cost contained, accessibility is still there, and the quality is still high."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: President Obama pushes back hard against critics of his health care plan as hopes fade it could be passed by August.

BARACK OBAMA: One Republican Senator said, ‘if we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo.’

7:01AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: First, though, the fight over health care is becoming a very bitter pill. President Obama goes on the offensive today, not only against Republicans, but also some members of his own party. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has the details. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Good morning, Harry. That's right. It's game on in the effort to find health care reform. The President has been six months on the job and he now faces his first major battle with Congress. And as you said, not just with Republicans, he's calling in some Democrats today on the House committee to do a little arm twisting, or persuading I think they'd call it. The House committee has not yet acted on health care reform. Recent polling shows a dramatic drop in the President's approval rating on health care, reflecting public concern about what it may cost, fueled by opponents of the plan. The President says reform will save money and accuses Republicans of practicing the politics of delay and defeat.

BARACK OBAMA: One Republican Senator said, ‘if we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.’ Think about that. This isn't about me. This isn't about politics.

PLANTE: But both sides are playing politics and with a vengeance. This new Republican ad targets voters in states whose members of Congress are uncommitted.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [AD ANNOUNCER]: His new experiment risks their future and our health.

PLANTE: The issue is how to pay for reform. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggests revising the proposed tax increase on wealthy Americans, limiting it to individuals making more than $500,000 and couples making a million. The President says he wants a deal by the time Congress takes its August recess, but in a broadcast interview, Mr. Obama displayed some flexibility.

OBAMA: If somebody comes to me and says it's basically done, it's going to spill over by a few days or a week, you know, that's different.

PLANTE: But the White House still wants that deadline to keep the pressure on. They admit here that there's no easy way to pay for the kind of health care reform the President wants, but they say he's going to keep at it 24/7. As one of them put it to me yesterday, ‘do you realize how competitive he is?’ Harry.

SMITH: Bill Plante at the White House this morning, thanks. Joining us now from Washington is Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Mr. Steele, good morning.

MICHAEL STEELE: Hey, Harry, good morning. Good to see you, buddy.

SMITH: The President describes the need for health care reform as ‘urgent and indisputable.’ Would you challenge that?

STEELE: No, I wouldn't. It is urgent, and it is indisputable. But the problem that I have with it is the rush that is underway here. This excessive, you know, push to get it done in two weeks. How do you do national health care – not in the sense of nationalizing health care, but looking at it on a national scale – the impact in terms of costs, the impact in terms of programs, and the ultimate relationship between the doctor and the patient. How do you do that in two weeks? And it is stunning to me-

SMITH: Although this has been – although committee members have been working on this for weeks and weeks and weeks through the summer.

STEELE: Oh, yeah, I mean – and you know it took – it took a year and a half for us to create the Medicare system. Now we're going to – we’re going to do the entire health care system in two weeks or six weeks? I mean, the point is take your time, don’t – I mean there’s no – look, we've gotten this far with the health care mess that we're in. I think we can get another eight, nine, ten months down the road to make sure we get it right.

SMITH: Do-

STEELE: This is an impact on a lot of the families that are watching this program this morning, that are going to incur an incredible amount of cost here, that this President is not laying out on the table.

SMITH: Do Republicans have the best way to control or curb costs?

STEELE: Oh sure, absolutely. I mean, there have been any number of proposals by Senate and House members that have been put on the table from portability to tort reform. The President put tort reform on the table. Guess he had a conversation with the trial lawyers because literally within 24 hours he took it off the table. How do you do health care reform without tort reform? How do you do health care reform without having insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, patients at the same table at the same time?

SMITH: Should everybody be insured?

STEELE: Pardon me?

SMITH: Should everyone be insured?

STEELE: Absolutely. And you've got 47 million people right now who do not have insurance. Out of 310 million Americans, 47 million of them do not have insurance. So let's focus on how we get insurance into the hands of those 47 million without undoing what most Americans, some close to 70% to 80% believe is a good access that they have to health care, and the cost is right now the biggest crunch that they've got to deal with. Let's focus on that aspect of it. Getting the cost under control and getting those 47 million into the program without upending the entire system and not rushing. Take your time and get it right.

SMITH: Is it more important for Republicans to defeat health care as it stands right now, or is it more important to defeat the President on this issue, as Jim DeMint seems to suggest?

STEELE: Yeah, well first off, this is not about the President personally or otherwise. It's not about Jim DeMint. It is about putting in place a health care strategy that we can move forward from, knowing that we've got cost contained, accessibility is still there, and the quality is still high. So yes, this is about putting a good health care plan in place. And what I said yesterday, very directly to the President, is when you go to your press conference tomorrow, tell us the truth about the costs and let's talk about the timing. Because this rush in two weeks is not going to work.

SMITH: Michael Steele, we thank you for your time this morning, do appreciate it.

STEELE: You got it, Harry. Take care.

SMITH: Alright, you bet.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC