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Obama Bats Back Criticism of Health Care Effort

President Barack Obama sought to turn every argument against a health care overhaul on its head Wednesday night, describing his initiative as one that would reduce the deficit, make it more likely people can keep their insurance, promote more choice of insurers, help insurers provide better coverage, and even get the government out of decisions about care.

The message was delivered in a prime-time East Room news conference that focused almost exclusively on health care. The onslaught of questions about the president’s top priority had to be pleasing to White House officials who have mounted a furious campaign to move faltering health reform legislation forward in Congress. The president took full advantage, offering lengthy answers to a relative handful of questions during his 56 minutes at the lectern.

For the first time, Obama got directly behind a new tax that had not initially been proposed for the legislation — saying a plan by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to change House legislation to tax families making more than $1 million per year fit with his principles.

The president also pressed the White House line that Republicans are opposing his initiative for political gain, a tactic White House aides hope will generate voter anger at GOP opposition to Obama’s plan. Obama portrayed himself as above such machinations.

“Politics may dictate that they don’t vote for health care reform because [defeating it] will make Obama more vulnerable,— Obama said. “But if they’ve got a good idea, we’ll take it.—

Obama also repeated a frequent refrain that his proposals would reduce the deficit because they would be fully paid for and would slow the rate of increase in health care costs.

Responding to Obama’s comments, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) suggested in a statement Obama’s claims that his proposals would reduce costs were nonsense.

“The health care plans we’re debating right now flunk their most important test, which is cost,— Alexander said. “We need to be able to say to every American that we have a plan that makes it possible to afford both your health care plan and your government,— he said.

“The Mayo Clinic, the Democratic governors, including Governor Bredesen [of Tennessee] and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office have all said we’re heading in the wrong direction.—

Obama sought to aggressively counter contentions by Republicans that his plan would eventually cause people to lose their private insurance and be forced onto government rolls because a heavily advantaged public insurer would put private insurers out of business.

The president said his ideas would instead provide “more security and more stability— because they would make it more difficult for insurers to drop people’s coverage. He said the competition from a government insurer would make private plans better by providing needed competition. And he even said his reforms “will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it.—

Obama rejected suggestions that his administration was not being as transparent as possible. Asked about reports that the White House was refusing to release the names of health executives who had been at the White House, he said a list has now been sent out — it was released just before the press conference began. And while health care meetings have not been broadcast on C-SPAN as promised, he noted an initial gathering in the East Room was carried by C-SPAN.

And he suggested that if lawmakers wanted to televise their deliberations, it would be fine with him.