By Tony Romm - 09/13/09 11:00 PM EDT
President Barack Obama on Sunday dismissed the suggestion that this year’s healthcare efforts are a replay of what happened in the 1990s, saying lawmakers today are actually closer than ever to reforming health insurance.
But Obama also staked his personal claim in the evolving debate, suggesting to CBS’ “60 Minutes” that an unsuccessful reform could come to define his presidency.
Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview caps off a week in which the White House played serious offense in an attempt to regain control of the wandering healthcare debate.
Saturday the president was in Minneapolis, where he detailed his health plan before a vocal crowd that was eager to chant “Yes we can!” at his proposals. On Sunday, he dispatched his cabinet members and key congressional allies to the morning talk shows to discuss the many opportunities for compromise.
The president furthered that case on Sunday night, telling host Steve Kroft in the pre-recorded interview that he was confident he “will have enough votes to pass not just any healthcare bill, but a good healthcare bill that helps the American people.”
“And I think there're some who see this as a replay of 1993-94. You know, young president comes in, proposes healthcare. It crashes and burns and then the Republicans use that to win back the House in the subsequent election,” Obama explained.
But, the president added, “We're not going to get a better opportunity to solve our healthcare issues than we have right now. And that’s why I’m confident that in the end we will get this done.”
Obama also took a moment to lament the loss of civility in political discourse – the “coarsening of our political dialogue,” in his words. His remarks provided a perfect segue for Kroft to gauge Obama’s thoughts on Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who interrupted the president’s address on Wednesday night by shouting, “You lie!”
“This is part of what happens,” Obama said of Wilson, adding that he accepted the congressman’s apology on Thursday. “I mean, it just, it becomes a big circus instead of us focusing on healthcare.”
Obama ultimately dodged Kroft’s original question, never actually specifying whether Wilson should be “rebuked” in Congress for his actions. But the president did not similarly hedge his language on Republicans in general, who he mostly accused of stalling the healthcare reform process.
“I think right now you've got just a political environment where there are those in the Republican Party who think the best thing to do is just to kill reform,” Obama said, noting he was still willing to negotiate the details of reform with the GOP.
But, added the president: “I think we're debating something that has always been a source of controversy, and that's not just healthcare, but also the structure, and the size, and the role of government … That's something that basically defines the left and the right in this country.”