President Barack Obama warmly embraced — literally and rhetorically — Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) Friday, just days after expressing impatience with his panel’s efforts to craft health care legislation.
Obama, appearing on Baucus’ home turf at a health care town-hall meeting in Belgrade, Mont., shared a hug with the chairman on the way to the lectern. The president then proceeded to praise Baucus’ effort, describing the Montanan as someone “who is working tirelessly to make sure the American people get a fair deal when it comes to health care in America— and then later repeating that the chairman was “working very hard.—
At an event in Portsmouth, N.H., Tuesday, Obama flashed impatience with the Finance effort and suggested it was more important to get a bill than to wait around too long for Baucus. “My hope is we can get it done in a bipartisan fashion, but the most important thing is to get it done for the American people,— Obama said Tuesday.
Obama did not retract that statement Friday, nor did he comment specifically on the prospects for the Finance Committee effort.
Baucus originally sought to get legislation done by July 4; a group of Democrats and Republicans on the panel are still working toward a bipartisan consensus that will form the basis of the bill.
Neither Baucus nor Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who was also at the event, spoke to the audience.
Obama framed the event as one in a series in which he is focusing on his initiative’s benefits for those who already have insurance. With polls showing growing opposition to Obama’s proposals and many people satisfied with their insurance, the White House has been emphasizing the ways in which it says insurers act capriciously toward those who have or are seeking coverage.
Obama said the Portsmouth event was designed to focus on the difficulty that those with pre-existing conditions have when seeking insurance. Friday he focused on those who lost their insurance because they developed a serious condition. A third town hall Saturday in Grand Junction, Colo., will address those who are socked with huge bills because they have hit a cap on their coverage.
Obama, who actively sought out tough questions, was at one point asked why he was “vilifying— the insurance companies, which he denied he was doing.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele dismissed Obama’s health events as unpersuasive.
“As President Obama takes his traveling road show to Montana, Colorado, and Arizona, Americans simply aren’t buying his efforts to repackage his government-run experiment,— Steel said in a statement. “Health insurance reform’ or health care reform,’ co-ops’ or public option;’ no matter what he calls it, no matter how he tries to dress it up, no matter where he goes, he can’t escape the fact that his government-run health care plan would increase costs, increase taxes, increase the deficit and reduce health care choice and quality.—