Schieffer: Obama Runs Against Insurers

President Barack Obama speaks Monday about health care reform to an audience at Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa.
AP Photo/Mel Evans
In yesterday's appearance at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., President Obama talked of how government inaction on health care is allowing insurance companies to "run wild," affecting not only people with do not have or have lost their health coverage but affecting those who do.

On CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer called the appearance a significant shift for Mr. Obama.

"He suddenly is not so much running against Republicans as he's running against the insurance companies themselves. People who are satisfied with their health coverage — and most polls show that people who have it are satisfied — what he is saying to them is, 'Look, it's okay [if] you're satisfied with what you've got, but if we don't do something here, your premiums are going up. And it's the big old bad insurance companies that are going to do it to you.'

Such as this choice morsel form the president's take on insurers: "They're telling their investors this: 'We are in the money, we're going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.' "

"He's trying to isolate the insurance companies now," said Schieffer, not running so much against Republicans, as he's running against the insurance companies. And this is the shift: this is what is different now."

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CBS News chief White House correspondent Bill Plante said the president's appearance yesterday did indeed look like a campaign. "He's trying to convince the public to ignore what he calls Washington's obsession with keeping score in politics," Plante said, such as "What does it mean for your poll numbers? Is this good for the Democrats or good for the Republicans? Who won the news cycle?"

And there's a reason for the president's urgent tone, said Plante: Time is short. America's Health Insurance Plans, an insurance industry trade group, is planning to mount a million-dollar advertising campaign this week against attacks on insurers.

The president may be taking on the pundits and the political establishment, but polls show Mr. Obama has an uphill battle: In a new Gallup poll, 49% oppose the health care plan, and in a recent CBS News/New York Times, the bitter fight over reform has left 48% believing that the president has spent too much time on the issue — and 52% saying he spent too little time on the economy and jobs.

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"Everybody who is looking for an explanation of what went wrong is now focusing on the staffers inside the White House," said CBS News political analyst John Dickerson. "What these stories miss, though, is the fact that it's the president who has kept going forward on health care."

The new strategy is therefore to raise the temperature on insurance companies, and hope audiences like the one in Pennsylvania Monday — young people who were told they will have to pay the "crushing costs of Medicare and Medicaid" if changes aren't enacted soon — will pressure Congress to pass the bill.

At the moment, according to Schieffer, the president doesn't have the numbers needed in the House to pass (although Democratic leaders say they will once it comes to a vote). But he is staying with the issue despite some polls suggesting Americans would prefer he spend his energies on the economy and jobs.

"I think they would tell you in the White House that this was the president's signature issue, this is what he campaigned on: getting health care for all Americans," said Schieffer. But another part of it is like the old song: "It's like he's got a tiger by the tail," Schieffer said, "he's into this, and how do you let go of it right now? So I think that is as much as anything else one of the reasons that he sticks with this. I don't question his sincerity. I also think he thinks it's the right thing to do."

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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