US President Barack Obama’s far-reaching plan to guarantee all Americans healthcare ran into trouble on Friday over its more than US$1 trillion price tag, forcing Democrats to look for ways to reduce costs as they moved the bill forward.
Obama took his case for his signature domestic issue to the US public, insisting that “now is not the time to slow down” the effort to overhaul the troubled system.
“Now we’ve got to get over the finish line, and part of this process is figuring out how to pay for it,” he said at the White House.
A preliminary analysis of the plan being pushed by Democrats in the House of Representatives concluded the legislation would increase federal budget deficits by US$239 billion over 10 years.
The analysis was conducted by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, both of which work for Congress.
But changes to the House Democrats’ plan were already under consideration and the House Energy and Commerce Committee late on Friday insisted that the healthcare reform effort would be fully paid for.
Three of five congressional committees have agreed to a plan that would revolutionize the US$2.5 trillion healthcare industry by setting up a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers. It would also bring insurance coverage to many of the 46 million uninsured and ease the burden of high medical costs on millions more.
Obama, who said he was “absolutely convinced” it could happen this year, has high approval ratings that give him the political capital to spend when hammering out a deal with lawmakers. A delay to next year, a congressional election year, could make it harder to pass.
But there is dissent among his own Democrats, who control Congress. Two groups totaling about 70 lawmakers have said healthcare costs must be brought down further if they are to back the bill. The loss of these votes could scuttle the bill in the House of Representatives.
One of these, a group of House Democrats, brought their concerns about higher taxes to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Friday. They are worried that new taxes would harm small business and further hurt employment.
“Especially in a recession, we need to make sure not to kill the goose that will lay the golden eggs of our recovery,” Representative Jared Polis said.