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Obama Dances Around Whether Health Bill Has Tax Increases

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President Obama produced no single blockbuster story during five interviews broadcast Sunday, though he made plenty of headlines on health care, Afghanistan troop levels, and the impact of racism on his presidency.

He said he would not sign a health overhaul bill if it is not a "good deal for the American people." He downplayed talk of racism being behind some of the criticism of him. And he said he is undecided about sending more soldiers to Afghanistan.

The president appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," CNN's "State of the Union" and Univision's "Al Punto." Fox News was snubbed. While "Fox News Sunday" is a mainstream Sunday show, several Fox show hosts, including Glenn Beck, are among Obama's most virulent and unrelenting critics.

Obama's team booked him on the five Sunday morning shows -- unprecedented for a president -- in order to drive the health care debate as House and Senate members prepare to vote on overhaul measures. But the hosts were not limited in what they could ask during their sit-downs, about 15 minutes each, taped Friday afternoon in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.


Other news nuggets: On ABC, the president declined to say whether he would sign a bill stripping ACORN, the controversial community organizing group, of federal funding.

A loyal South Side Chicagoan, Obama told NBC he is still rooting for the White Sox to get to the World Series, a mathematical but not realistic possibility.

On CNN, Obama said the First Family wants to get the H1N1 vaccination. But if serum is in short supply, "We will stand in line like everybody else. And when folks say it's our turn, that's when we'll get it." Obama flubbed the name of daughter Malia, calling her Maya, the name of his half-sister.

Obama is not making immigration reform a priority, he told Univision: "I'd really like to solve our immigration problem, but I can't solve every problem all at once."

And on CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC, Obama scolded television bookers for making stars out of people who engage in "rude" behavior rather than civil discourse.

ON HEALTH CARE

Obama got his most relentless questioning from ABC's George Stephanopoulos over the proposal to require everyone to buy health insurance. Though he did not embrace mandated purchase of health insurance during his primary contest with then rival Hillary Clinton, now he does. The thinking behind a health insurance mandate is this: If people wait until they are sick to buy coverage, the insurance system cannot work. (And the rest of the public is forced to subsidize ER visits for those who refuse to get insured.)

Stephanopoulos tried to get Obama to acknowledge that forcing everyone to buy insurance was a form of a tax increase. To buttress his argument, he read Obama a dictionary entry about taxes.

Still, Obama did not bite.

"That's not true, George. ... The fact that you looked up in Merriam's dictionary, the defination of a tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now," Obama said.

Obama said "I absolutely reject that notion" that a mandate is tantamount to a tax increase.

On NBC, he said he does not feel compelled to sign any health care bill Congress sends him.

"And I actually think that we've agreed to about 80 percent of that if you look at all the bills that are coming through all these committees. The key is now just to narrow those differences. And if I don't feel like it is a good deal for the American people, then I won't sign a bill."

A public insurance option is on life support now; the Senate Finance Committee bill did not include it. It's been a bit of a guessing game over whether Obama will jettison or insist on a public option during end-game bargaining with the House and Senate.

But there are still many more steps to go in the legislative process, and on "Al Punto" Obama discussed the public option with Jorge Ramos. "I absolutely do not believe that it's dead. I think that it's something that we can still include as part of a comprehensive reform effort."

Obama is getting pressure on the public option from the left and right. "What I've said," he told NBC, "is the public option, I think, should be a part of this but we shouldn't think that, somehow, that's the silver bullet that solves health care."

On CNN, Obama praised the parts of the Senate bill that get coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and get rid of "some fine print that says that they've got to pay huge out-of-pocket expenses or they hit a lifetime cap. All those reforms are in there, and that's really important."

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House GOP leader John Boehner both said today that Obama should start over on health, something that's just not going to happen right now.


ON AFGHANISTAN TROOP LEVELS

Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation," David Gregory on "Meet the Press" and Stephanopoulos on "This Week" all tried to pin Obama down on whether he will send more troops to Afghanistan.

"What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there beyond what we already have," Obama told Gregory.

"We're not gonna put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops, we're automatically going to make Americans safe," he said to Schieffer.

Obama told Stephanopoulos, "We're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is, if by sending young men and women into harm's way, we are defeating al Qaeda -- and that can be shown to a skeptical audience, namely me, somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops -- then we will do what's required to keep the American people safe."

McConnell said on CNN that Republicans would support sending more troops to Afghanistan and urged Obama to make up his mind.

"We think the time for decision is now. As Senator McCain has pointed out, when you delay a decision like this, you, arguably, maybe, unnecessarily endanger the lives of our soldiers. If we need to change strategy, if we need to increase the troop strength there, I think the president will enjoy a lot of support among Senate Republicans."

ON RACE

On the subject of race and Obama, the first African-American president was asked by King on CNN and Schieffer at CBS about the anger on display at town halls across the country and former President Jimmy Carter's comment that racism was the root cause.

"Now I think that what's driving passions right now is that health care has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy, particularly coming off a huge economic crisis," Obama said on CBS.

Obama told CNN it's really resistance to change: "You know, as I've said in the past, you know, are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government. I think that there are -- there's been a longstanding debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes."

The Obama media blitz --and the White House continual quest to reach out to different audiences -- continues on Monday, where the president will be a guest on the David Letterman show on CBS.

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