President Obama is spending his considerable political capital and using his personal magnetism Wednesday in a prime-time appeal to Americans on the virtues of the 10-year, $1 trillion-plus health care reform package big-footing its way through Congress.
Swaying public opinion would go a long way toward convincing resistant lawmakers that a massive health care reform bill is vital and needed immediately. The task could be a heavy lift for the president, who so far is getting little love from either voters or Congress despite talking about the topic 10 times over the past 10 days.
Watch FOX News Channel and FOXNews.com for a live broadcast of President Obama's prime-time press conference at 8 p.m. ET.
Causes for hesitation include, among other issues, the massive price tag, the number of people covered, the elimination of insurance options, the fear of long lines and inability to access physicians, the increase in taxes to pay for it and concern that the 1,000-page bill is not being vetted enough as it is moves quickly through Congress.
The Congressional Budget Office upset Democratic supporters of the plan by last week projecting that the House legislation will cost $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, depending on the plan adopted. The price tag sent shock waves through Washington and beyond.
But the CBO can only project out 10 years by law. Other projections based on CBO's numbers and extending into the future show the bill could explode the deficit once the benefits are fully implemented. One estimate by the Republican staff of the House Ways and Means Committee estimated the deficit would increase by $759 billion over the first 10 years the benefits are fully in effect, which is in 2015. Another projection of long-range costs done by congressional staff shows deficits in the 2020s of $50 billion to $250 billion per year.
On top of that, while the administration claims the legislation will be "deficit neutral," one senior administration official acknowledged Tuesday that the pledge does not apply to an estimated $245 billion to increase fees for doctors serving Medicare patients over the next decade.
Trying to rein in Medicare costs is a major challenge. In 1966, the year Medicare law was enacted, the cost was $3 billion and estimated to be $12 billion by 1990. Actual cost in 1990 for Medicare was $107 billion. In 2007, Medicare spent $468 billion on prescription drugs, hospital care and physician services.
The Medicare account is now projected to spend more than it gets in revenues in 2017.
Backers insist that savings will be realized in other areas, for instance, by Americans becoming healthier and spending less on doctors visits and because emergency rooms won't be used for primary care. But an increase in taxes on upper income brackets is expected to accompany the bill.
"There (are) efforts to invest in wellness, to go after fraud and abuse, which we know is a huge
part of the system with people stealing money away from our senior citizens and our most
vulnerable citizens," Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told FOX News.
Adding to the suspicions about the bill are reports of a meeting held at the White House with a group that included CBO Director Dougles Elmendorf. It's very unusual for the CBO director, who is appointed by the majority party to serve as the official numbers cruncher, to go to the White House, and Elmendorf's visit raised questions about whether he was being pressured to revise his dire analysis.
A White House spokesman said that Elmendorf was invited to be one of the participants at the meeting because he, like the president, is serious about bringing down costs.
"If someone thinks it's inappropriate for the president to meet with the CBO director, that's unfortunate," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told FOX News.
Elmendorf added on his Web log that he offered to the president a personal briefing of the contents of his analysis and the same testimony he gave Congress, but would not be swayed by a personal meeting with Obama.
"People have asked whether it was exciting to meet the president and be in the Oval Office: Yes, and my kids will be jealous when they get back from summer camp and hear about it," Elmendorf wrote.
"Of course, the setting of the conversation and the nature of the participants do not affect CBO's analysis of health reform legislation. We will continue to work with members of Congress and their staffs, on both sides of the aisle, to provide cost estimates and other information as health reform legislation is considered," he added.
Previewing his evening press conference, the president told CBS in an interview that aired Tuesday morning that the country needs a reform bill immediately to stem the rising costs of health care. He defended himself against claims that the bill is being hustled through without proper consideration.
"We've been studying this ad infinitum. Starting in November after my election, a lot of members of Congress, including the chairman of the Finance Committee, Max Baucus, started meeting and working through ideas," Obama said. "So we've actually been working on this for a good solid nine months now."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed weeks ago that the House would vote by the end of July on the legislation to meet the goals established by Obama months ago. On Wednesday, Pelosi expressed confidence in the ability of her caucus to pass the legislation though her stance on a timeline was less firm.
She said that the House wanted to wait to see what the Senate would offer in terms of legislation. However, she insisted that "we are going in a forward direction" towards passage.
The pace of movement continues to concern Democrats and Republicans alike.
"No one wants to tell the speaker that she's moving too fast and they damn sure don't want to tell the president," Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a key committee chairman, told a fellow lawmaker as the two walked into a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. The remark was overheard by reporters.
"If we don't put the brakes on the president, he's going to break our country right now," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told FOX News. "And the last time we let him ram something through Congress, we ended up with this catastrophic stimulus failure that's hurting our jobs and mortgaging our future. And now he's trying to push this trillion-dollar health care bill through in two weeks, before we go home on the August break. And we've got to slow him down."
Sebelius said the differences that divide lawmakers and competing legislation are not as big as they seem. Among the five bills being ushered through the House and Senate, all share "common ground that everyone would be covered, that we would provide a new marketplace for those that don't have coverage or coverage they can't afford to have some choices and have some cost competition."
"No one is going to be forced to lose their private coverage. That's just an incorrect assertion and assumption," Sebelius added.
But still bothering GOP lawmakers are measures to include 5.6 million illegal aliens among those covered as well as the refusal to cap medical malpractice awards.
"Taxpaying families, already weighed down by bailouts and massive spending bills, cannot afford to pay for health insurance for millions of illegal aliens," said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. "It is wrong to reward law breakers. The American people are speaking loud and clear and saying, 'No health care for illegal aliens.'"
"There is something fundamentally wrong with America when it is easier to sue a doctor than see a doctor," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Each year, $30 billion is awarded to victims of medical malpractice. Obama has said he does not support caps on awards.
"There are bad doctors out there, but the answer is not frivolous lawsuits, and it's not these incredible liability costs imposed on all of us, it's take their licenses away. That's what you do with bad doctors," Hensarling said, noting that many doctors order a battery of unnecessary tests to protect themselves from a lawsuit, further driving up the prices of health care.