Obama Pushes Health Care Bill in Combative Fox Interview

CBS

CBS

Updated 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time

In a sometimes-combative interview Wednesday with Fox News' Bret Baier, President Obama predicted that his health care reform bill will pass and said that he doesn't "spend a lot of time worrying about what the procedural rules are in the House or Senate."

The comments come as Republicans criticize House Democrats for considering using an obscure maneuver called a "self-executing rule," which both Republicans and Democrats have used multiple times in the past, to combine votes on the Senate version of the health care bill. Using the procedure will keep House Democrats from having to vote directly on the Senate bill, which many oppose, and instead pass it in conjunction with a budget reconciliation bill that includes changes to that bill.

"What I can tell you is that the vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health care reform," the president said. "And if people vote yes, whatever form that takes, that is going to be a vote for health care reform. And I don't think we should pretend otherwise. And if they don't, if they vote against it, then they're going to be voting against health care reform and they're going to be voting in favor of the status quo."

In the interview, Baier repeatedly pressed Mr. Obama on whether he supports use of the self-executing rule. As Mr. Obama kept trying to discuss the substance of the bill, Baier interrupted him in an attempt to get back to that issue.

"I understand what you're -- I know you don't like to talk about process," Baier said at one point.

"I've got to say to you, there are a lot more people who are concerned about the fact that they may be losing their house or going bankrupt because of health care," responded Mr. Obama. He later added: "The reason that I think this conversation ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process."

The battle over the focus of the interview was also present when Baier started reading questions from Fox News viewers, among them one asking, "If the health care bill is so wonderful, why do you have to bribe Congress to pass it?"

Mr. Obama replied that he gets 40,000 e-mails or letters each day and that they "talk about why haven't we done something to make sure that I, a small business person, am getting as good a deal as members of Congress are getting, and don't have my insurance rates jacked up 40 percent."

The Fox News host then pressed the president on which "special deals" remained in the bill. The president threw his support behind the deal Republicans deemed the "Louisiana Purchase," saying the provision "said that if a state has been affected by a natural catastrophe, that has created a special health care emergency in that state, they should get help. Louisiana, obviously, went through Katrina, and they're still trying to deal with the enormous challenges that were faced because of that."

"Now I have said that there are certain provisions, like this Nebraska one, that don't make sense. And they needed to be out," he added. "And we have removed those."

Baier asked for more specifics, throwing out the names of states -- Florida, Connecticut, Montana -- saying, "there are a lot of deals in here, Mr. President, that people have issues about."

The president responded that some such provisions would remain, "but those are not going to ones that are driven by politics, they're going to be driven policy."

Twice in the interview the president implored Baier to let him finish his thought.

"Well, I'm trying to answer your question and you keep on interrupting," Mr. Obama said at one point.

Baier asked Mr. Obama if the bill makes Medicare stronger, saying the president had to choose whether to spend the $500 billion in projected savings from the program on solvency for the program or on expenditures.

The president said "we are going to take these savings, put them back to make sure that seniors are getting help on the prescription drug bill instead of that money going to, for example, insurance reform, and.." before he was cut off.

"And you call this deficit neutral, but you also set aside the doctor fix, more than $200 billion," Baier said. "People look at this and say, how can it be deficit neutral?"

After the president responded that the doctor fix is a problem he inherited from the previous administration, and that it would be an issue with or without the health care bill, Baier interjected, "But you wanted to change Washington, Mr. President. And now you're doing it the same way."

At the end of the health care portion of the interview, Mr. Obama was asked if the bill would become law.

"I'm confident it will pass," he said. "And the reason I'm confident that it's going to pass is because it's the right thing to do."

White House officials have accused Fox News of essentially operating as a branch of the GOP; last October, then-communications director Anita Dunn called the network "either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party."

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said around the same time that the network is "not really a news station" and that "it's really not news -- it's pushing a point of view."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a briefing Tuesday that trying to convince Fox viewers to support the health care bill was "certainly worth a shot."

"Obviously they have a pretty big audience share and I think it's safe to say that a lot of members that are undecided are going to be -- they watch and their constituents watch this news. So we're happy to continue the argument on why health care reform is important to pass this year on Fox," Gibbs said.

Last month first lady Michelle Obama appeared on Mike Huckabee's Fox News show, and other administration officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have also appeared on the network.

More Coverage of the Health Care Reform Fight:
Republicans Have Used "Slaughter Solution" Many Times
Dennis Kucinich to Vote Yes on Health Care
Countdown to Health Care Vote Spurs Final Push from Dems, Opponents
Door Closed on Health Care Protesters
Cloudy Skies Start Clearing For Dems
GOP Tries to Block "Slaughter Solution" in Health Care Vote
Explainer: How the House Could Pass Health Care Reform with One Vote
Liberal Groups Turn on Dems to Pass Health Care Reform
Groups Seek to Influence Health Care Debate Without Disclosing Donors
CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care

Comments