Republicans Reject Obama Charge of Blowing Opportunity to Fix Health System

President Obama speaks about health care reform at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., March 8. (AP Photo)

President Obama speaks about health care reform at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., March 8. (AP Photo)

Republicans returned fire at President Obama's attempt Monday to paint them as squandering a decade by not passing health care reforms, saying Democrats stymied chances to pass tort reform and offered such stiff resistance on the Iraq war and Social Security fixes, it eliminated time for debate on other topics.

Obama taunted the GOP during a last-ditch push to pass health care legislation in the next 10 days.

"You had 10 years. What happened?" Obama asked at a Glenside, Pa., rally, casting doubt on his rivals' claims that they want to focus on reining in health care costs. 

But in his recap of the 2000s, Claude Chafin, spokesman for Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who attended the bipartisan health care summit last month, said the president is overlooking some other pressing matters.

"In 2006, we were fighting tooth and nail to turn things around in Iraq and to establish the surge and get the troops what they needed," Chafin said. "It's fair to say that if the Democrats hadn't played as many games with troop funding ... there might have been more legislative time to dedicate ... to health care." 

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spokesman Don Stewart noted that the president said just two weeks ago at the bipartisan health care summit that Republicans had good ideas that he would be including in his proposal. 

"It's just challenging to say Republicans have good ideas on health care reform ... and then say Republicans don't do anything on health care," Stewart told FoxNews.com. "We've been dealing with health care non-stop for a year now and to say no one's interested in it is a hell of a stretch."
Stewart added that despite the White House push for health care reform, the president declared in his January State of the Union address that jobs would be his top priority. 

"Health care isn't his number one priority either," Stewart contended. 

You wouldn't know that by listening to him. Obama used his speech Monday to try to rouse supporters into helping him twist arms on Capitol Hill and send the bill over the "finish line" soon. 

"Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp!" he shouted. 

Looking to make this the home stretch of his yearlong reform push, Obama aggressively went after insurance companies and accused them of making "calculated" decisions to raise rates beyond what families can afford. 

"The insurance companies continue to ration health care based on who's sick, who's healthy," Obama said. "These insurance companies have made a calculation." 

The president argued that insurers figure that they can afford to price out some customers, because "there's so little competition" in the market that they can keep raising premiums on the customers they have left without fear of them dropping plans in large numbers. 

Obama's pitch near Philadelphia, along with a stop in St. Louis Wednesday, comes as the president begins an all-out effort to pass his health care proposals. The next two weeks will prove decisive, with the White House pushing for House action by March 18, when Obama leaves for an Asia trip. 

As Obama spoke, House Republican Leader John Boehner warned that Americans will face higher taxes, reduced health benefits for the elderly and lost jobs if Obama gets his way. 

Calling the proposed legislation "heavy on snake oil" and light on reality, Boehner said in a statement that Obama should take note of states that already want to opt out of his "burdensome health care mandates." 

Obama has long made insurers a target in his drive for revamping the health care system. But administration officials have turned up the heat in recent weeks, seizing on planned rate increases in California and elsewhere, as well as comments from an insurer broker on a conference call to investors organized by Goldman Sachs. Obama cited the broker's comments that insurance companies sometimes see it as more profitable to drop or deny coverage to some and raise prices on others. 

Insurers have blamed rising rates on the growing price tag of prescription drugs, hospital stays and other medical costs. 

Though his plan has received only modest public support, Obama has implored lawmakers to show political courage and not let an historic opportunity slip away. 

Party leaders are narrowing in on a strategy that calls for House Democrats to go along with a health care bill the Senate passed in December. Obama would sign it into law, but senators would promise to make numerous changes on issues that have concerned House Democrats. 

Because Senate Democrats lost the 60-seat majority needed to stop GOP filibusters with the Massachusetts Senate race, the changes would have to be made under rules that require only simple majority votes. 

But full Democratic support is far from certain. Some party moderates are uneasy about the cost of the $1 trillion bill and its language on abortion, and some House Democrats are suspicious of whether their Senate colleagues would follow through on promises to work out the differences in the bills. 

"The Senate has given us a lot of reason not to trust them," Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat, said on "Fox News Sunday." "There has to be some certainty that the Senate is going to follow through on their part." 

The Democratic plan includes greater consumer protections and a ban on discriminating against customers with pre-existing conditions. Small businesses also would receive a tax credit this year. 

The White House hopes the immediate changes created by the bill would give Democratic candidates a strong platform on which to campaign in the fall. 

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that if the bill passes, the November elections will be a "referendum" on health care reform.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.