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US: Obama in all-out push for US health reform

By Alex Ogle
Wed Jul 22 19:17:54 EST 2009

WASHINGTON, July 22 AFP - Barack Obama is to hold a primetime news conference on Wednesday as support for his six-month-old presidency dips and critics blast his handling of the economy and health care reform.

When Obama steps up to the dais for his fourth primetime conference since taking office, he does so as a USA Today/Gallup poll showed his approval rating slump to 55 per cent and his disapproval rating jump 16 points to 41 per cent.

Obama's handling of the economy appears to be key to his fading popularity, as Americans have become more pessimistic about how long it will take the economic downturn to end.

White House adviser David Axelrod called the "turbulence" predictable, and expressed confidence in the public's support for the president.

"People fundamentally like this president, and they believe he's smart and capable and strong and trying to do the right thing," he said.

But critically for Obama's high-stakes efforts to pass health care reform through Congress, the poll also found 50 per cent of the US public disapproved of his health care policy, with 44 per cent showing support.

Against the backdrop of mounting deficits -- borne from efforts to battle the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s -- and ever-rising unemployment, health care reform looks set to be Obama's biggest test yet.

His far-reaching plans to bring affordable health insurance to all Americans have left many worrying who will end up footing the bill. Many players within his own Democratic party remain skeptical.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted on Tuesday that due to the recession-mired economy, with its smaller tax base, the government's budget challenges "have only become greater".

But Obama has personally invested much in the campaign, a cornerstone of his 2008 White House race in which he defeated Republican rival John McCain to become the country's first African-American president.

"Just the other day, one Republican senator said -- and I'm quoting him now -- 'If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him'," Obama said on Monday.

"This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy."

In an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, first published online late on Tuesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal -- a potential Republican candidate to challenge Obama in years to come -- slammed the president for his efforts.

The "Democrats' reforms are designed to push an ever-increasing number of Americans into a government-run health care plan," Jindal wrote, saying authorities would compete "unfairly in the marketplace until private plans are driven out of business."

The result, Jindal warned, would be higher costs for all Americans accompanied by an inevitable fall in health care quality.