Obama tries to convince American public that health care reform is in its best interest.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 23 2009 6:42 AM

Obama Pitches Health Reform

The Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with President Obama's prime-time news conference, which was almost entirely devoted to health care reform. Confronting an increasingly skeptical public, the president tried to reassure Americans that the overhaul would improve their quality of care while decreasing costs. "This has to get done," he said. Obama said this effort wouldn't help just the uninsured but rather "every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage." For the first time, Obama said he would be open to a proposal in the House that would help pay for the legislation by increasing taxes on families earning more than $1 million a year. "To me, that meets my principle" that the cost is "not being shouldered by families who are already having a tough time." The president's public relations push continues today with a town hall-style meeting in Cleveland.

The Los Angeles Timesoff-leads the news conference and leads with news that a 26-year-old American who pleaded guilty earlier this year to providing material support to al-Qaida is now cooperating with authorities. He spent time with al-Qaida militants in Pakistan and is now able to provide valuable information. Bryant Neal Vinas from Long Island converted to Islam and traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he attempted to fire rockets at a U.S. military base. Vinas, who was known as Bashir el Ameriki (Bashir the American), said he gave al-Qaida chiefs information about New York commuter trains for a possible attack. A statement he provided will be used in a case against accused militants in Belgium, and he has been questioned by French investigators. The paper notes that an indictment was unsealed yesterday in Brooklyn after the LAT had made "repeated queries about Vinas." Until yesterday, "the case had been a closely guarded secret at the heart of investigations in at least seven countries."

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In the news conference, Obama tried to regain momentum on one of the key items in his domestic agenda that had lately devolved into a lot of partisan bickering. But he chose not to use the precious airtime to make any new demands on Congress, choosing instead to sound "cerebral" by getting "into policy specifics for nearly an hour," notes the NYT. And while Obama made a point of trying to speak directly to the American public, whom he described as "understandably queasy about the huge deficits and debt," the WP notes he "struggled to explain" how any of the measures making their way through Congress would bring down health care costs. In fact, it's not clear the public really understood everything he had to say. The LAT points out that Obama "relied on jargon that Washington insiders embrace but that might leave the typical television viewer mystified." In what seems to be a clear bid to win over conservative House Democrats, Obama emphasized his support for creating a panel of independent experts that could set Medicare reimbursement rates.

The WSJ notices that Obama talked about the legislation as "health-insurance reform" rather than health care reform, "in an apparent effort to suggest he is overhauling health insurance, which has negative connotations for many Americans, as opposed to health care." Continuing this trend, he also talked about the "record profits" that insurance companies are making at a time when many Americans are suffering. Obama denied he was putting pressure on Congress to act before the August recess for political reasons. "I'm rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by health care costs." Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch from Utah withdrew from the bipartisan group of senators who were discussing legislation due to what he described as the "rushed approach."

The NYT talks to a "senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill" who said party leaders think Obama needs to start being more specific about what should be included in the bill, instead of simply pressuring lawmakers to get moving. "The president needs to step in more forcefully and start making some decisions," he said.

Answering a question at the end of his news conference about the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his home in Cambridge, Mass., Obama said that the "police acted stupidly." He didn't accuse the police officers of racial profiling and emphasized that "Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here." While Obama pointed to his own election as "testimony to the progress that's been made," he added that the Gates incident shows that race "still haunts us."

The WP fronts a look at how even though the national business lobby has launched a campaign against health care reform, the business community is hardly unified on the issue. While many businesses do agree that the legislation making its way through Congress would be a jobs killer, others think it's about time something is done to fix a broken system. While many might not be vociferously supporting the reform efforts, they're still not campaigning against it, illustrating how "the alliances that previously scuttled health-care reform may be scrambled this time around."

Inside, the WP points out that a consulting firm Republicans love to cite to bolster their case against some aspect of health care reform is owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers. In fact, it's part of a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused of distributing bad data to get consumers to pay for more medical expenses. The company denied any wrongdoing but reached a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the American Medical Association. The Lewin Group insists it has a wide variety of clients and its research is not affected by its corporate owner but also acknowledged that a study that contradicts a client's position might never be released.

The NYT fronts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that the United States could extend a "defense umbrella" to protect allies in the region if Iran develops nuclear weapons. She made the statement to a Thai television program during her visit to Southeast Asia and immediately sparked controversy. Some diplomats said they saw her statement as implying that the Obama administration has given up on trying to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in the first place, an analysis that Clinton herself later denied. Still, some interpreted the remarks as an attempt to make it clear to Tehran that there are other ways to counter its nuclear goals besides diplomacy as well as a message to other countries in the region that might be thinking about pursuing a nuclear program in response to Iranian efforts. Although the "defense umbrella" plan is hardly surprising and was largely expected, Clinton is the first senior official to mention it publicly. Clinton also continued to express concern over the possible "transfer of nuclear technology" from North Korea to Burma and called on foreign ministers to work together to achieve North Korea's "irreversible denuclearization."

The LAT fronts news that a team of federal drug agents and police officers searched the Houston office of Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician, and took away documents and computer files. The search warrant made it clear Jackson's death is being investigated as a manslaughter and is the "strongest indication yet that authorities are considering serious criminal charges" in the King of Pop's death last month. An official tells the paper the warrant mentioned the anesthetic propofol, which was found in large quantities at Jackson's home. But it seems propofol was not found in the office. Legal experts caution that while the fact that manslaughter is mentioned in the search warrant can give a hint of where the investigation is headed, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. "All the time there are investigations where no one is charged with a crime in the end," a law professor said.

The WSJ says that the latest obsession among the body-conscious is the fat ankle, or "cankle," as it's commonly known. Some of popular fashion items of the summer have "only added to the collective cankle anxiety" that has pushed gyms to create specific workouts and plastic surgeons to offer liposuction procedures. Even shoe companies are getting in on the mix, promising that certain models will minimize the cankle. Now a once-obscure term has entered the popular lexicon and joined other slang terms that are used to unflatteringly refer to body parts, including bay window, love handles, and muffin tops, to name a few. Body-image experts say all these terms help to contribute to eating disorders and create self-esteem issues. "Pretty soon it will be 'Let's start strengthening our toes,' " said one.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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