National Press Club

"Slow Down, Mr. President," GOP Chairman Advises Obama on Health Care

July 22, 2009 | By Bill Miller |

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President Obama’s effort to overhaul the U.S. health-care system and his hurry-up push to get legislation through Congress by Aug. 7 is “too much, too fast, too soon,” Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said at the Club July 20.

Because health care accounts for one-sixth of the nation’s economy, the effect of rushed, ill-conceived legislation “could last for generations,” Steele warned. Obama’s ambitious timetable, he said, “should scare the living daylights out of us.

“So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong.”

Calling Obama’s plan “socialism” and a “risky experiment with our economy,” Steele used his speech to kickoff an RNC campaign airing the Republican criticisms. The campaign comes just as a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that public support of Obama’s handling of the health-care issue has dropped below 50% for the first time.

Steele’s early-morning appearance also got the jump on this week’s all-out drive by the White House, which includes a prime-time news conference Wednesday, to build consensus among Democrats and public support for Obama’s plan.

Steele argued that under Obama’s vision, “the vast majority of Americans will pay more to get less. We will spend trillions more … and the 267 million Americas who now have insurance will have fewer options and worse care. And we still won’t cover all the uninsured.”

Moreover, he said, provision of a government-sponsored insurance option, sought by many Democrats, would be an unprecedented intrusion into the private sector – far more intrusive than passage of Medicare in 1965.

Asked whether Obama’s plan represents socialism, Steele replied simply: “Yes! Next question.”

Steele complained that GOP lawmakers are being locked out of health-care legislative negotiations. In contrast with Democrats, who favor “the big Washington experiment,” he said, Republicans support a system in which “patients and doctors make the decisions.”

He reeled off a list of “simple, common-sense fixes” backed by the GOP. Most of the reforms address costs, which he called the health-care system’s biggest problem. Among the reforms:

  • Requiring doctors and hospitals to post on the Internet the prices of all tests, treatments, procedures and office visits.
  • Requiring insurance companies to offer simple, understandable contracts and one-page reimbursement forms.
  • Protecting doctors from frivolous, expensive lawsuits.
  • Enabling employees to take their health insurance with them when they change jobs.
  • Supporting paperless, health-care IT systems
  • Emphasizing prevention, wellness and disease management programs.
  • Offering tax credits for health-insurance premiums.
  • Imposing tougher penalties on companies, physicians and others who abuse the health-care system.
  • Enabling small businesses to form cooperatives to offer employee health plans.

Steele, former Maryland lieutenant governor who is the first African-American to lead the RNC, was elected to his post in March. His NPC appearance was devoted entirely to health care; neither his remarks nor audience questions addressed controversies over his leadership or GOP strategy in the wake of its recent election losses.