, WASHINGTON, July 22 – US President Barack Obama holds a primetime news conference on Wednesday to tout the health care reform he promised during his campaign for the White House, as new polls reveal his popularity is waning.
Six months after his January inauguration attracted record crowds and television audiences, Obama’s approval rating has dropped nine points to 55 percent, a USA Today/Gallup poll found this week, as his disapproval rating jumped 16 points to 41 percent.
Critically for the high-stakes efforts over health care reform — on which Obama is pushing for immediate legislative action — the poll found the US public disapprove of his health care policy by 50 percent to 44 percent.
Obama’s handling of the economy appears to be key in his fading popularity, as Americans have become more pessimistic about how long it will take the economic downturn to end.
Health care reform however, when coupled with mounting deficits from efforts to battle the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and ever-rising unemployment, looks set to be Obama’s biggest test yet.
He has invested much personally in the campaign, a cornerstone of his 2008 White House race that saw him defeat Republican rival John McCain to become the country’s first African-American president.
But his far-reaching plans to afford health insurance for all Americans have left many worrying who will end up footing the bill.
During the press conference, only the fourth in primetime since his presidency began, Obama hopes to sway not only the public on radical reform but also many players within his own Democratic party, who are yet to be won over.
When Obama in February unveiled massive plans to stimulate the world’s largest economy and create or save some three million jobs within two years, he was met by a wave of skepticism among Republican critics who accused him of aggravating the deficit, burdening generations to come with a huge debt.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs meanwhile admitted Tuesday that due to the recession-mired economy, with its smaller tax base, the government’s budget challenges "have only become greater."
As such, it is more than anything else the final cost that may eventually scupper plans for the health care system — one of the most expensive and least performing among the world’s industrialized nations.
But Obama is determined to get his message across, and has fought back hard to keep it on track.
"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 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.