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Obama Vows to Battle Powerful Lobbies on Reform Efforts

Obama at 2-25 economic speech

WASHINGTON - President Obama took the gloves off Saturday and challenged the nation's lobbyists to legislative sparring on a range of issues, from from energy to education, as he presses for passage of a massive budget plan.

As Republicans object to the size of the $3.6 trillion budget and the accompanying deficit, one of Obama's biggest bouts may be with the health care industry. Lobbyists, in interviews with FOXNews.com, suggested they weren't looking for a fight, though they have much at stake.

Obama wants to squeeze Medicaid and Medicare spending to help create a 10-year $634 billion fund billed as a "down payment" on his goal of providing health insurance for all. He would use $316 billion in savings from those entitlement programs. Some of the Medicare savings would come from scaling back payments to private insurance plans that serve older Americans, which many analysts believe to be inflated.

The president attempted to rally support for his ambitious budget plan Saturday in his weekly radio and video address. He argued that the plan, unveiled Thursday, will help millions of Americans, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.

"I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight," Obama said, using tough-guy language reminiscent of his predecessor, George W. Bush. "My message to them is this: So am I."

Lobbyists for the health care industry, who helped defeat reform efforts by the White House in the 1990s, told FOXNews.com they want to work with the Obama administration. Even so, they may have more to lose than other sectors targeted by Obama's call for change.

Insurance companies will dislike having "to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that's how we'll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs," the president said. 

But lobbyists said they're willing to seek the middle ground with the president.

"Protecting the health care of seniors and achieving health care reform are not mutually exclusive goals," said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry's Washington-based lobbying arm. 

"We're committed to doing our part," he said, noting that his organization has offered its own proposal for health care reform.

Zirkelbach told FOXNews.com that policymakers will have to decide whether seniors shoulder a disproportionate cost to reform health care.

"But at the end of the day," he said. "we're confident that we will be on the side of health care reform."

Zirkelbach said his organization is not gearing up for a fight, as Obama thinks.

"We're gearing up to help advance health care reform," he said. "We've been doing it for the past three years. No one said achieving health care reform would easy. It's a difficult task that requires a commitment by all stakeholders to do their part."

Richard Coorsh, a spokesman for the Federation of American Hospitals, also said his organization wants to work with the president to achieve health care reform. Coorsh, who worked for the insurance industry in the 1990s when President Clinton failed to overhaul health care coverage, said the opposition to reform has softened.

"If you look at the big picture, you will see there's a whole different attitude among the players," he said. "There are a whole host of efforts to develop some sort of consensus plan. ... Everybody is aware that the current system doesn't work,"  he said.

Lobbyists said they weren't offended by the tone of Obama's remarks on Saturday, saying that he is only exerting leadership in healthcare reform.

"He wants to lead and he knows as we do that the whole need to reform the healthcare system to cover more Americans is intertwined with our financial condition," Coorsh said.

Some analysts say Obama's proposals are almost radical. But he said all of them were included in his campaign promises. "It is the change the American people voted for in November," he said.

Obama acknowledged Saturday that passing his budget, even with a Democratic-controlled Congress, "won't be easy."

Congressional Republicans continued to bash Obama's spending proposals and his projection of a $1.75 trillion deficit this year.

Almost every day brings another "multibillion-dollar government spending plan being proposed or even worse, passed," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who gave the GOP's weekly address.

He said Obama is pushing "the single largest increase in federal spending in the history of the United States, while driving the deficit to levels that were once thought impossible."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.