, WASHINGTON, Sep 14 – American anger at the cost of propping up the US economy will not force President Barack Obama to row back on his ambitious health care reform plans, the White House said.
On the defensive after Saturday saw the first big anti-Obama protests since he became president in January, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs conceded Sunday that Americans were angry, but said it was mostly about big spending.
"I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we\’ve ever seen," said Gibbs.
The stunning implosion of the US investment bank over the weekend of September 13-14, 2008 has come to mark the beginning of a crisis that reshaped the financial sector and deeply scarred the global economy.
"We\’ve had to do some extraordinary things… to rescue the financial system, to ensure that our domestic auto industry didn\’t go out of business, and to stimulate the economy. That certainly cost a lot of money, but it\’s something that we had to do," said Gibbs.
Saturday\’s protests saw tens of thousands take to the streets of Washington to attack Obama over his big spending and big government, but Gibbs insisted the president would not be deflected from his top domestic priority of overhauling the broken health care system.
"I think what the American people want most of all… is for Washington to put aside the game playing and start to begin to solve the very big problems that our country faces," he told CNN television.
"I know that\’s what the president believes he was elected to do. And I think it would be a good start to deal with health care."
Obama has vowed to pass legislation by the end of the year that would spread coverage to America\’s 47 million uninsured by making insurance obligatory and affordable for all.
Republicans jump on the 900-billion-dollar price tag, which Obama claims he can make up in savings, and stoke fears that a mooted public option would lead to a federal takeover of health care — anathema to many Americans who abhor the idea of big government.
Obama, who has been criticized for waiting too long to go on the offensive after an August of feisty town hall meetings during which angry Republican-led opposition received almost blanket media coverage, is now hitting back hard.
In an interview with CBS, aired on Sunday but recorded on Friday, Obama accused some Republicans of cynically trying to kill off his flagship domestic policy just to cripple his young administration.
He said that regardless of their efforts he had enough support to pass a far-reaching overhaul of a system that leaked money like a sieve and left tens of millions Americans uninsured.
"I think right now you\’ve got just a political environment where there are those in the Republican party who think the best thing to do is just to kill reform, that that will be good politics," he blasted.
A new Washington Post-ABC News opinion poll released Monday showed Americans remained almost deadlocked in their opinion of the health-care initiative, with 46 percent in favor of the proposed changes and 48 percent opposed.
There was also a clean split on Obama\’s handling of the issue, with 48 percent approving and the same number disapproving, according to the survey.
But since mid-August, the percentage "strongly" behind the president on health care has risen to 32 percent, the poll showed.
On Monday, the president will switch his attention squarely back to the economy with a major speech in New York in which he is expected to defend his spending policies by claiming they helped stave off a second Great Depression.
As well as his 787-billion-dollar stimulus plan, Obama invested hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out the indebted financial sector, unveiled mortgage rescue plans and took steps to loosen the flow of credit.
Aides said the president\’s address at the Federal Hall would refocus attention and issue a call for action on financial, regulatory and structural problems still dogging the slowly reviving economy.