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In Iowa, Obama Recalls Health Care Promise


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Washington's health care battle is over but the shouting is not. The last piece of overhaul legislation crossed the finish line last night when the House approved some final fixes to the main health care bill that was passed over the weekend.

The job of selling the new law to a skeptical public is far from over though. President Obama traveled to Iowa yesterday to highlight some of the benefits that law would provide.

As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, it was also a kind of homecoming.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama will always have a soft spot for Iowa.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is the state that first believed in our campaign.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: In his first road trip since the passage of the landmark health care law, Mr. Obama returned to Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, where he first spelled out his plan for universal health care as a rookie candidate for the White House in 2007.

President OBAMA: When I came here three years ago, I told the story of when Lyndon Johnson stood with Harry Truman and signed Medicare into law.

HORSLEY: At the time, Mr. Obama had quoted Johnson as saying history shapes man but leaders also have to have faith that men can shape history. Iowa City resident Mary LaRue remembers that Obama campaign visit three years ago. She was impressed by the novice candidate, but a little worried he might get pushed around in Washington. Those fears gave way this past weekend when the health care law cleared Congress. LaRue says the president and his team got the job done.

Ms. MARY LARUE: I was holding my breath all day long about that and I thought it was great.

HORSLEY: That success turned the campaign slogan of potential, yes we can, into a celebration of accomplishment - yes we did.

(Soundbite of crowd)

President OBAMA: Yes we did.

HORSLEY: The president defended the new health care law as a common sense middle of the road measure that builds on the existing private insurance system. He cataloged some of the benefits that will take effect later this year, including tax breaks for small businesses that provide insurance to their workers, a ban on insurance companies dropping policyholders when they get sick, and a provision that will let young adults stay on their parent's policies up to age 26.

Mr. Obama also playfully rebutted the apocalyptic warnings of some Republicans about what would happen when the new law was passed.

President OBAMA: So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any...

(Soundbite of laughter)

President OBAMA: ...asteroids falling or...

HORSLEY: No cracks opened up in the Earth, he joked. It turned out to be a pretty nice day. The president's middle of the road approach drew some criticism in this otherwise friendly crowd from those who say the new law doesnt go far enough. One heckler asked loudly why it doesnt include a public insurance option. Mr. Obama answered bluntly: because we couldnt get it through Congress.

He conceded the new law is not perfect, but said it will ultimately extend health insurance to an estimated 32 million people.

Mr. OBAMA: It doesn't do everything that everybody wants, but it moves us in the direction of universal health care coverage in this country, and that's why everybody here fought so hard for it.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: And that fight isn't over just because the bill is now law. Polls show voters are still deeply divided over the legislation and Republicans promise to campaign against it in the upcoming mid-term elections. Embolden by the law's passage though, and the consumer protections that will begin to kick in before the November elections, Mr. Obama says his attitude towards Republican threats is: go for it.

Mr. OBAMA: If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe that the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat. Weve already been there. We're not going back. This country's moving forward.

(Soundbite of cheering)

HORSLEY: Once again quoting Lyndon Johnson's words from the Medicare signing ceremony, Mr. Obama said yesterday: This generation has proven Americans still have the power to shape history.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.