Even as conservative Republicans launched their latest gambit to derail the implementation of his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama sat down Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton to tout the law's benefits.
"This has everything to do with the economy, in addition to what I consider to be the moral imperative," Obama said at a Clinton Global Initiative event in New York City. "A mom should not have to go bankrupt if her son or daughter gets sick … a family who is dealing with a layoff and is already struggling to pay the bills shouldn't also be wondering whether they are one illness away from losing their home. And I think most Americans agree with that."
Obama's law, derisively called Obamacare by opponents, has withstood a Supreme Court challenge and was a central part of Republican Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign against the president. But House Republicans, taking the lead from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted last week to strip funding for the law from the federal spending measure that needs to pass by Oct. 1 to keep the government's lights on. As Obama made the case for his initiative, Cruz himself was simultaneously taking to the Senate floor to rail against it.
"I rise today in opposition to Obamacare; I rise today in an effort to speak for 26 million Texans and for 300 million Americans," Cruz said. "All across this country, Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. Obamacare isn't working, and yet fundamentally there are politicians in this body who are not listening to the people."
Cruz, a first-term senator who launched into office on the back of grass roots tea party support, is sure to lose a vote on the House's legislation in the Democratically-controlled Senate, but he's hoping to build his national political prospects by taking a stand popular with his party's base.
Obama, meanwhile, offered a wonky but accessible explainer for why he pushed for health care reform in the first place, even as he came into office in the midst of an economic tailspin.
"Health care is the economy, a massive part of our economy so the idea that we can somehow separate out the two is a fallacy," Obama said. "The effort for us to deal with a multifaceted health care crisis has been going on for decades."
Clinton, who spent political capital during his own presidency in a failed effort to pass comprehensive health care reform, served largely as a facilitator during the hour-long exchange with Obama, which featured the two men sitting alone on a stage in front of a star-studded audience including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Obama made an economic case to rebut arguments from Republicans that the health care reform effort is a government takeover that harms businesses with unwieldy and excessive regulations.
"The reason that we have not only current deficits but also projected deficits is primarily based on the fact that we have a hugely inefficient, widely expensive health care system that does not produce better outcomes," he said. "And if we spent the same amount of money on health care that Canada, France or Great Britain did, or Japan … with the same outcomes or better outcomes, that essentially would remove our structural deficit."
On Oct. 1, electronic marketplaces will open up health insurance enrollment opportunities ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline when all Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Many of the consumer protection reforms included in the law, such as the elimination of lifetime cost caps and mandated preventative care coverage, have already gone into effect.