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Health Care: Just One Issue On Obama's Plate

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

President Obama holds a health care summit at the White House today. Doctors and other health care professionals will be part of it, as will Cabinet officials, members of Congress, the White House team, conferring on how to overhaul health care. NPR News analyst Juan Williams joins us to talk about the summit.

Juan, welcome.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what is the point of a health care summit? What is the president hoping will happen?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, last week he named Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas, to be the secretary of Health and Human Services. He's also named Nancy DeParle as the head of the White House Office of Health Reform. And so he's got now people at the top of the health care structure, and he's looking for ideas. He's also set aside money as part of the stimulus package that could be used in some way to revive the way Americans handle health care.

But he doesn't want to put forward an idea and have the Congress and all the lobbyists reject it. He'd rather have the lawmakers themselves - some congressional people, the lobbyists and industry leaders - come together for the summit, sort of suss out their own ideas and then say it wasn't my idea. This is the idea of the very smartest, best people in the industry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: And here, why don't you look at it, Congress?

WERTHEIMER: Health care is very difficult to get through Congress, as experience has shown. Do you think that in taking that issue on so soon the president is - is this too much?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's a big ticket. And you know what, Linda? It's just one of the many tickets. He's having a health care summit today, but he's already had summits on so many issues - transparency and accountability, a White House task force on middle class families.

WERTHEIMER: There's one working now in Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS: Economic advisory board. And, of course, he's got the stimulus package and he's got the budget and everything that's in the budget. So it could be that you could say that his plate is more than full. It's overflowing, if not cratering. But the thinking at the White House is you've got to take advantage of the early momentum.

His popularity still is a power, and they want to ride that popularity as much as possible. And they think if they can get it done now, it's better than waiting until you get close to the - what will be the 2010 midterm cycle.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think in taking on so many things, is it possible he's setting himself up to fail here?

WILLIAMS: Well, he is in a sense, Linda, in that he's got so much on his plate, you can imagine that Republicans running against Obama in the White House in 2010 are going to say look at all these things he set out to do. What did he accomplish? And so the idea for the Democrats is to simply say we're making an effort. We're trying to take advantage of this moment to create change in America.

WERTHEIMER: On the question of failure, the conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh appears to be cheering for the president to fail. The Republican chairman called him on it, then he had to apologize to him. What's all this about?

WILLIAMS: Well, Michael Steele, the new chair of the RNC said that what Limbaugh was saying was ugly, incendiary, then had to apologize. But the fact is, Linda, look, Rush Limbaugh stirs the base. He's got a huge listenership.

But the base in the Republican Party is so limited. It's now about 28 percent of those who self-identify in the electorate. That's 10 percent smaller than the Democrats. It's even smaller than the independents, who are about 30 percent.

And the Democrats are happy to jump on him and say, yes, he's the face of the Republican Party, and he's very unpopular. And he's the energy, and the Republicans are afraid of him. The Republicans, for their part, are trying to somehow find a way to get beyond Rush Limbaugh. They want the base, but they have to expand the party if they have any hope of winning elections, especially going into 2010.

WERTHEIMER: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Thanks.

WILLIAMS: Have a good morning, Linda.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
Linda Wertheimer
As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
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