Obama: I was too ambiguous on healthcare reform

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he has left “too much ambiguity” in what he wants for healthcare reform, allowing his opponents to control the message.

The morning before his address on healthcare to a joint session of Congress, Obama said he took a relatively hands-off approach “out of an effort to give Congress the ability to do their thing and not step on their toes.”

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That allowed “opponents of reform to come in and to fill up the airwaves with a lot of nonsense — everything from the this ridiculous idea that we were setting up death panels to false notions that this was designed to provide health insurance to illegal immigrants,” Obama said in an interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America."

He also criticized a “broader notion of a government takeover of healthcare, which none of the bills that worked their way through Congress ever envisioned.”

Obama’s speech Wednesday night is intended to get the White House back in control of a debate it has been ceding ground on for the past month. Critics have decried a public health insurance option Obama has supported, saying its implementation would lead to government-run healthcare by driving private insurers out of business.

Obama has also been attacked from the left over the past month after administration officials hedged over whether the public option should be included in legislation.

The president told "Good Morning America" that despite the best efforts of his White House, “unyielding partisanship” has hampered the healthcare debate.

“In some ways, I think it's gotten worse,” said Obama.

He blasted the right wing of the Republican Party for obscuring what he sees as the reasonable voices of centrists within the GOP.

“Part of the frustration I have is, is that on the Republican side there are wonderful people who really operated on the basis of pragmatism and common sense and getting things done,” Obama said. “Those voices have been — been, I think, shouted down on that side.”

He said he hoped the GOP “can rediscover that voice.”

Obama warned that if some principles are not included in a congressional healthcare bill, he will not sign it, but he stressed that the intent of his address to Congress is to ensure that people understand exactly what he is proposing.

He said he wants to ensure that lawmakers in both parties understand that he is open to new ideas and that the White House is not being “rigid and ideological” about healthcare reform.

At the same time, Obama vowed “we do intend to get something done this year,” and he said he wanted to “dispel some of the myths and, frankly, silliness that's been floating out there for quite some time.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday morning that the president was still working on his speech after spending the weekend at Camp David putting it together. The president was en route to New York City to speak at a memorial for veteran newsman Walter Cronkite.

Gibbs said Obama talked to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Tuesday, "and hopes that the Finance Committee can get something done in a bipartisan way."

Baucus has been trying to reach a biparisan deal with six members of his commitee, and unveiled his proposal to them over the weekend. He has asked the six panel members to offer their recommendations by Wednesday morning.

This story was updated at 9:48 a.m.

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