Obama’s push for healthcare reform on fast track

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President Obama’s been hitting the road for healthcare reform, holding town halls yesterday in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bristol, Virginia, where he responded to critics of his proposal.

“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of healthcare,” he said in North Carolina on a government-run public health insurance option, which he says would inspire choice and competition with private insurers. “Under the reform I’ve proposed, if you like your doctor, you keep your doctor. If you like your healthcare plan, you keep your healthcare plan. These folks need to stop scaring everybody.”

The President also addressed concerns that he’s rushing too quickly for a healthcare bill by explaining that, while he wants a bill drafted now, Senators can read it during the August recess, and debate it further before its final passage in the fall. “Congress will have time to read the bill,” he said. “When we come back in September, I will be available to answer any question that members of Congress have. If they want to come over to the White House and go over line by line what’s going on, I will be happy to do that.” At 1,000-plus pages, though, that likely wouldn’t happen, but I get the sentiment that he’s willing to be hands-on in order to get this done.

While the White House has stuck to the strategy of keeping Obama front and center to pitch his policies, there’s also been some grumbling that—with all the TV interviews, town halls, and primetime press conferences—he’s doing too much. I chatted with former surgeon general Dr. Joycelyn Elders yesterday (about a range of topics, including the President’s nominee for surgeon general and her own controversial post in the White House) who said that, while she supports the President’s healthcare agenda, he’s taking too much of the lead. “He should allow other people in his administration to be out here running from place to place, doing town hall meetings and all of this other stuff,” Elders said. “When it gets down to the final bill and shaping it into what you want it to be, then let the President come in to do the heavy lifting.”

The President’s aggressiveness might be paying off, though. For months the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in Congress threatened to hold the legislation back over concerns that it cost too much, but this week they struck a deal that pulled $100 billion in savings while still maintaining a public plan. That said, Senators negotiating on the bill have also admitted that the bill won’t be finished before the recess, which begins tomorrow.

Do you think the President has he been forceful enough with Congress to get what he wants in the healthcare bill?

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