|Obama has urged congress to approve a healthcare bill by August [GALLO/GETTY]|
Six months after taking the helm, Barack Obama, the US president, has entered stormy political waters.
With unemployment creeping toward 10 per cent and the economy still in the dumps, Obama’s public approval ratings are falling and his signature issue – reforming the dysfunctional US healthcare system – is stalled in congress.
Obama’s speeches now have an added note of urgency.
He wants congress to act on healthcare by August. “We can’t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to healthcare,” he told reporters during a trip to a Washington, DC, children’s hospital.
Opposition republicans smell blood in the water.
They want to delay action, thus increasing the chances the reform effort will fail and deplete Obama’s political capital.
Republicans say democrats’ health reform proposals are too expensive, too bureaucratic and will lead to increased taxes and poorer quality care.
Michael Steele, the Republican party chairman, relayed the new message, focusing on the scary-sounding concept of “experimentation”.
“President Obama is conducting an experiment,” Steele told the National Press Club on Monday.
“He is conducting a dangerous experiment with our healthcare and with the quality of our lives. He is conducting a reckless experiment with our economy,” he said.
“And he is conducting an unnecessary experiment with our tax dollars. Experiments which will transform the very life of our country and its citizens.”
Just in case anyone didn’t get the “experiment” message, the republicans spelled it out in a TV ad featuring crying babies and glum-looking children.
“The biggest spending spree in history. And they’ll have to pay,” the narrator intones.
“The next big ticket item? A risky experiment with our healthcare. Barack Obama’s massive spending experiment hasn’t healed our economy. His new experiment risks their future and our health.”
It almost makes you think of Obama as some crazy, lab-coated scientist who keeps a human brain in a jar on his desk.
Obama is fighting back.
He accuses republicans of trying to derail healthcare just to hurt him politically.
|Republican chief Michael Steele has accused Obama of experimenting with healthcare [AFP]|
He lashed out at comments by Jim DeMint, a republican senator, recorded during a conference call with republican activists.
“One republican senator said – and I’m quoting him now – ‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him’,” Obama said.
“Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a healthcare system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy,” he said.
In an all-out media offensive, Obama has been doing made-for-TV healthcare reform events for more than a week – a push culminating in Wednesday’s prime-time press conference.
But the biggest obstacle to healthcare reform isn’t the republicans, who form a minority in congress.
It is conservative members of Obama’s own Democratic party who are worried about increasing the federal deficit and raising taxes to pay for the one trillion dollar plan.
Slipping poll numbers
Obama had some of those democrats over for a White House meeting on Tuesday.
And the Democratic party launched its own TV ad, this one aimed at wavering democrats. Concerned-looking men and women stare straight out of the screen and tell their healthcare horror stories.
Both parties are subject to influence from well-funded lobbying groups — like the insurance industry and malpractice lawyers – who have no interest in changing the status quo.
As the debate over healthcare goes on, Obama’s poll numbers are slipping.
A new survey shows his overall approval rating dropped six points in less than a month.
“He’s lost ground over the past three months in terms of the public’s trust in his ability to find the solutions to the problems we face as a nation and part of that, I think, has come from concern about the government’s spending,” says David Ianelli of the Public Strategies polling and consulting firm.
The same polls, however, show that Americans trust Obama and the democrats to fix healthcare and the economy far more than they do the republicans in congress.