Battling slumping poll numbers, United States President Barack Obama holds a primetime news conference on Wednesday, in a bid to counter growing criticism of his economic and health policies.
Obama steps up to the dais for his fourth news conference since taking office in January, with a USA Today/Gallup poll showing his approval ratings down to 55% and his disapproval ratings up 16 points to 41%.
The downturn in Obama’s once stratospheric poll numbers parallels the decline in the US economy, as Americans become more pessimistic about how long it will take for the recession to finally come to an end.
White House adviser David Axelrod called the “turbulence” predictable, however, and expressed confidence in the public’s support for the president.
“People fundamentally like this president, and they believe he’s smart and capable and strong and trying to do the right thing,” he told USA Today.
But critically for Obama’s high-stakes efforts to pass healthcare reform legislation in Congress, the newspaper’s poll also found that 50% of the US public disapproved of his healthcare policy, with 44% showing support.
Against the backdrop of mounting deficits and ever-rising unemployment, healthcare reform looks set to be Obama’s biggest test yet.
His far-reaching plans to bring affordable health insurance to all Americans have left many worrying who will end up footing the bill. Many players within his own Democratic party remain skeptical.
White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs conceded on Tuesday that, in a recession-mired economy, with its smaller tax base, the government’s budget challenges “have only become greater”.
Obama personally has much invested in healthcare reform, which was a cornerstone of his 2008 presidential campaign. But he underscored this week that the battle to overhaul the healthcare system was not a question of political gamesmanship.
“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,'” the president said on Monday.
“This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a healthcare system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses, and breaking America’s economy.”
Meanwhile, in an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal — tipped to be a possible future White House contender — slammed the health reform efforts by Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress.
The “Democrats’ reforms are designed to push an ever-increasing number of Americans into a government-run healthcare plan,” Jindal wrote, adding that the proposed reforms could hurt private healthcare providers and lead to their ultimately being “driven out of business”.
Jindal warned that that, in turn, could lead to higher costs for all Americans and an inevitable decline in the overall quality of healthcare.
Obama has received support in some Republican quarters, however, including from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who on Wednesday said the healthcare overhaul is needed “right away”.
“I would support him 100% in healthcare reform, because I think it’s necessary,” Schwarzenegger told ABC.
“It’s inexcusable that we have 48-million people in the whole United States that are uninsured,” he said. — AFP