WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama launched a TV broadcast blitz on Sunday to push his top domestic priority, a remake of the U.S. health care system that now rests in the hands of a pivotal but deeply divided Senate committee.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama laid out what he called the “core principles” he required for health care reform that he says is targeted at middle-class families.
"Now, the principles that we've talked about, making sure that there's an insurance exchange that allow people to buy in and get health insurance and negotiate as a big pool to drive down costs. Making sure that we have insurance reforms that make sure you can still get health insurance even if you've got a preexisting condition and cap out of pocket expenses and so forth," he told NBC.
"Making sure that it's deficit neutral both now and in the future. Making sure that its driving down health care inflation so that we can actually deal with our long-term budget deficits. Those are the core principles that are critical to me," the president told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory.
Obama also put his support behind the idea of taxing employers that offer high-cost insurance plans.
"I do think that giving a disincentive to insurance companies to offer Cadillac plans that don't make people healthier is part of the way that we're going to bring down health care costs for everybody over the long term," Obama said.
Obama: Race flap is ‘catnip’ for media
Obama told "Meet the Press" that the flap last week over former President Jimmy Carter's remarks — in which Carter said that most of the “intensely demonstrated opposition” to Obama was based on race — was partly blown out of proportion because the topic was "catnip" for the media.
“I'm not saying that race never matters ... in any of these public debates that we have. What I'm saying is this debate that's taking place is not about race, it's about people being worried about how our government should operate,” the president told NBC.
Obama was also appearing Sunday on ABC, CBS and CNN to push health care reform and was to speak to the Hispanic network Univision.
Obama also is visiting David Letterman on Monday, the first appearance ever by a sitting president on Letterman's "Late Show."
On "Meet the Press," Obama also discussed U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan and whether the United States would need to increase its presence there to deal with rising violence.
“I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way you know, sending a message that America is here for for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources," Obama said.
"What I'm not also going to do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there- beyond what we already have," the president said on NBC.
The media push leads up to Tuesday, when members of the Senate Finance Committee plan to start voting on their version of a health care reform bill.
Democrats on the committee are disappointed with the bill proposed by the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Republicans see a chance to deliver a stunning blow to Obama that could cripple his presidency.
The stakes are so high because this isn't just another committee.
The 23-member committee is a microcosm of the Senate, the narrow gate through which legislation to cover the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans and try to control medical costs has to pass. If the committee can't produce, then the ability of Obama and the Democrats to pass a bill this year will be in serious question.
"If it can't get through the Finance Committee, the mountain that has to be climbed is a much higher mountain, and I don't know whether they'll have the ability to climb that mountain," said Christine Ferguson, a Senate Republican health aide during the Bill Clinton-era health care debate. Now a George Washington University professor, Ferguson was part of an unsuccessful effort to find a bipartisan deal.
Baucus, an optimist by nature, says he has the votes. "Oh, yeah — no doubt," he says.
But last week the chairman stood alone as he explained and defended his 10-year, $856-billion plan.
No Democrats joined him in front of the media — not even Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who spent months working with Baucus trying to find a compromise both political parties could support.