Obama to Challenge GOP on Healthcare Costs

Early indications show Obama calling on GOP to help on healthcare reform.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers

The administration has begun a prespeech campaign to frame President Obama's healthcare address to a joint session of Congress next week. Among the highlights: The prez will switch the theme to health insurance reform, note that there is 80 percent agreement among the several reform bills before Congress, challenge the Republicans to provide alternatives or explain why doing nothing is OK, and suggest that cable footage of angry town hall meetings missed the real story of financial hardships families face to pay medical bills.

"The goal is to begin to control the message over the weekend and, in addition, float some trial balloons, see how things play with the public," said one Democratic official who is involved in the prespeech campaign spin. "This is sort of the start of that effort to arm us with information and see how it plays," added the official, referring to themes and talking points provided by the administration to supporters in Washington.

One version shown to Whispers says that the healthcare debate has entered a "new phase" after a summer during which those town hall meetings were highlighted on cable TV. Obama may take a slap at those images, suggesting that they do not tell of a larger story of Americans meeting around kitchen tables to discuss high costs or losing coverage. "While cable news may have replayed over and over a few of the protests that took place over August," lawmakers also heard horror stories about high costs, says one of the theme papers.

The president also is expected to challenge Republicans to "either propose their own plan" or tell Americans why it is all right to "do nothing" to cut crushing premium costs or watch as families lose coverage.

The talking points, however, suggest that Obama will stick to a largely nonconfrontational approach that focuses on reforming health insurance, cutting costs, and helping find insurance for those without it. For example, he is expected to note that in all the reform bills before the House and Senate, there is about "80 percent" agreement on some elements that he also supports. He'll suggest that lawmakers focus on that to begin "pulling together" strands of the bills to produce "a final product that reforms our health insurance system."