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Obama Pushes Health Care Overhaul

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

President Obama says for the next several weeks, he'll be focused on one thing: health care. His goal: to get a bill through each house of Congress by the August recess. Today, he praised lawmakers for moving forward on health- care overhaul. But as NPR's Mara Liasson reports, there is still a long way to go.

MARA LIASSON: Surrounded by registered nurses and Democratic lawmakers in the Rose Garden, President Obama praised the House of Representatives, where Democrats unveiled their health-care plan yesterday, and the Senate HELP Committee, which passed its bill today.

President BARACK OBAMA: Both proposals will take what's best about our system today and make it the basis for our system tomorrow, reducing costs, raising quality, and ensuring fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry.

LIASSON: The president touted the fact that the Senate committee bill included 160 Republican amendments. Mr. Obama called that a hopeful sign. But the president didn't point out that not a single Republican voted for the final HELP Committee bill. In the Senate Finance Committee, members are still struggling to come up with a bill that can get Republican votes. One problem is public opinion, which isn't very helpful. Polls show that almost everyone wants health-care costs lowered and coverage expanded, but no one wants to pay more or give up anything to reach those goals. Harvard Professor Bob Linden is an expert on what the public thinks about health care.

Professor BOB LINDEN (Harvard University): In their mind, reform doesn't mean sacrifice on their part. It means streamlining, making the system work, records going, lower administrative cost, less paperwork, but they don't pay more.

LIASSON: The House bill, says Linden, is written with exactly those sentiments in mind.

Prof. LINDEN: The House bill checked every public opinion box. It asks upper-income people to pay for most of the new costs. And it talks about saving money by reducing payments to physicians and hospitals. And that's pretty much how the general public thinks it should be done.

LIASSON: But, Linden says, the House bill will outrage an array of very powerful interest groups, like hospitals, insurers and small businesses - groups that the White House has worked very hard to keep inside the tent on health care. So the Democratic Party is trying to ramp up public pressure from the outside with a new television ad.

(Soundbite of television ad)

Unidentified Man #1: My father-in-law walks with a limp because he didn't have health care.

Unidentified Woman #1: My husband's job covered us until he was laid off.

Unidentified Man #1: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's time.

Unidentified Man #2: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's time for health-care reform.

LIASSON: The text on the screen says: Call your senator. The senators who live in the states where the ad is airing just happened to be the key swing votes for health reform - mostly conservative Democrats and a few moderate Republicans. The DNC ad buy is an indication that the White House understands the key health-care battle will occur in the Senate, not the House. And it will be fought primarily within its own party.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.