President Obama pushed back hard against Republican critics of his health care overhaul plan Monday, vowing to fight "the politics of the moment" and press for passage of legislation by the end of the year.
"We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care," Obama said after meeting with doctors, nurses and other health care workers at Children's National Medical Center. "There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake."
Without mentioning his critic by name, the president recounted South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's comment that stopping Obama's bid for health care overhaul could be the president's "Waterloo," a reference to the site of Napoleon's bitter defeat.
"This isn't about me," Obama responded. "This isn't about politics. It is about a health care system that is breaking American families."
The president said it was time to "fight our way through the politics of the moment" and pass legislation by the end of the year, a shift in his repeated timetable. Obama had said previously that he wanted the House and Senate to vote on legislation before lawmakers leave town for their August recess, with a comprehensive bill for him to sign in October.
Obama spoke after the chairman of the Republican Party called the president's push for health care overhaul "socialism," and accused him of conducting a risky experiment that will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverage.
Michael Steele, in remarks at the National Press Club, also said the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and key congressional committee chairmen are part of a "cabal" that wants to implement government-run health care.
"Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions," Steele said.
Asked if Obama's health care plan represented socialism, Steele responded: "Yes. Next question."
Obama has repeatedly said he does not favor a government-run health care system. Legislation taking shape in the House envisions private insurance companies selling coverage in competition with the government.
The Republican chairman is making his speech at a time when Obama is struggling to advance his trademark health care proposal after a period of evident progress. Two of three House committees have approved their portions of the bill, while one of two Senate panels have acted.
Obama said problems with the health care system had been talked to death, "year after year."
He spoke of spiraling premiums, children denied coverage, overburdened emergency rooms, lost jobs.
"Unless we act, and act now, none of this will change," he said.
Conservative Democrats have raised objections to some elements of the legislation, and efforts in the Senate to reach a bipartisan agreement have yet to bear fruit. Obama's attempt to impose an early August deadline on both the House and Senate for passage of legislation is in jeopardy.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday shows approval of Obama's handling of health care reform slipping below 50 percent for the first time. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The president, who spent most of last week making his plea for health care overhaul, was making his case hard again this week, first at the children's hospital, and later this week in a prime-time news conference Wednesday and a town hall in Ohio on Thursday.
Republican officials said they were supplementing Steele's speech with a round of television advertising designed to oppose government-run health care. The 30-second commercial, titled "Grand Experiment," criticizes recent government aid to the auto industry and banks as "the biggest spending spree in our history" and warns similarly of "a risky experiment with our health care."
The GOP ads show children who presumably would be burdened as adult taxpayers with the cost of the health care overhaul. The commercials are being broadcast in Nevada, home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well Arkansas and North Dakota, states represented in the Senate by moderate Democrats. The ad is also being posted on the Internet, in coordination with a grass-roots campaign.
Separately, the insurance industry, which challenged President Bill Clinton's health care effort in the early 1990s, launched a $1.4 million ad campaign, its first TV ads of this year's health care fight. The multimillion-dollar campaign, being aired nationally on cable stations, restates the industry's support for an overhaul that provides universal coverage and its offer to cover people who are already sick. The ad campaign does not mention the insurers' strong opposition to creating a government-run insurance option.
An official disclosed the cost of the campaign on condition of anonymity as the numbers have not been made public.
This program aired on July 20, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.