Health Care Weighs on Obama's Popularity

In his weekly address today, President Obama called for an "honest debate" on health care reform and accused some critics of making "phony claims."

It's been a rough summer for the president, and, as CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports, right now he's looking for a re-charge.

He's a man sorely in need of a vacation. Barack Obama still has a 57 percent approval rating, but that's down by more than 10 points.

In April, 58 percent approved of Mr. Obama's handling of the economy. Now it's 52 percent. On the war in Afghanistan, his approval has fallen from 63 percent to 60 percent. And on health care? He's down from 57 percent approval to just 46 percent.

The president's critics say he hasn't done a good job explaining why reform is needed, despite holding 11 town hall meetings and giving 12 speeches and 16 interviews just devoted to health care.

The reasons the White House gives for the need for reform keep changing.

"I don't think they've ever distilled their argument down into that 25 words or less that break through to people that say, 'Oh, I get it now. I see why he thinks we should do this and I see why I should get on board,'" said Politico's Craig Gordon.

Full coverage of the debate over health care reform

Part of the problem is the president delegated the job of coming up with a bill to Congress. There are now so many versions, the opposition has a lot to attack.

And as Anne Kim of the political group The Third Way put it, "It's very difficult to sell something when you don't have a concrete bill."

And that lack of clarity is confusing or turning off key voting blocks like seniors.

"I think that is the biggest problem that none of us really know what's going to be," said one such voter, Marjorie Rosen, 82.

Reform opponents point to Mr. Obama's own words when they warn seniors their benefits could be cut. Mr. Obama has made reference to "cutting out waste and insurance company give-aways in Medicare that aren't making any of our seniors healthier."

Seniors want to know just what's being cut.

"How do i know? People talk about seniors losing coverage. Where is it written, where are the words?" said restaurant owner Harvey First, 59. "Show me the money."

Democratic strategists say the White House is trying to refocus its message by selling this as a benefit to the middle class - instead of an obligation to pay for 46 million uninsured.

"What it's going to offer to the middle class, and that's stability, or security," Kim said. "It's peace of mind."

The other job ahead is to bring some discipline to the process. Last weekend, we heard confusing messages on whether the White House was for or against a government-provided health plan, the so-called public option. The strategists say Mr. Obama needs to choose one plan and stick to it.
  • Kimberly Dozier

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