President Barack Obama vowed Thursday to fight Republican attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act, speaking in front of a cheering crowd at a Maryland community college five days before new insurance exchanges open for business.
"I won't negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America," he said. "We're not going to submit to this kind of total irresponsibility."
The president took a largely economic approach as he explained how Americans can sign up for insurance and tried to stir up support after a flurry of Republican-led attempts to thwart the Affordable Care Act, arguing that high health care costs were a big driver of the recession.
"In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick," he said.
A six-month enrollment period for the exchanges starts Tuesday. The Obama administration needs millions of Americans -- especially young, healthy people -- to sign up in order to keep costs low for everyone.
On Thursday, Obama outlined how uninsured Americans will be able comparison-shop for insurance online at www.healthcare.gov, which will direct users to programs to meet their needs in each state.
The president said shopping for premiums should feel like comparing prices for plane tickets on Kayak.com or a new TV on Amazon.com.
Obama encouraged the audience at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md., to share the news with their friends and family members.
"You can go to the website and check it out; you can see if what I'm saying is true…. You can sign up,” he said. “Tell your friends, tell your classmates, tell your family members about their new healthcare choices."
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"I WILL NOT NEGOTIATE"
Obama seemed to have some fun mocking at the GOP’s efforts to halt the act, drawing laughter from the crowd before getting serious again.
"They have made such a big political issue out of this, trying to scare everybody with lies about death panels and killing Granny, right? I mean, that's Armageddon," he said. "So if it actually works, they'll look pretty bad."
But Obama got serious when it came to Republicans’ threats to shut down the federal government and default on the United States’ debts, "unless I agree to gut a bill that will help millions of people."
He said a shutdown or a default on the nation’s debts would do far more harm to the economy that the ACA ever could.
"No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history, been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills just to blackmail a president... This is the United States of America," Obama said. "We’re not a deadbeat nation. We don’t run out on our tab."
Obama noted to his Maryland audience that the national capital region would be particularly hard-hit due to its considerable number of federal workers and civilian employees at military bases.
"Lot of people around here, you know, wake up and go to serve their country every single day in the federal government, civilians who work in military bases, analysts, scientists, janitors, people who process new veterans' and survivors' benefit claims, they'd all have to stay home and not get paid."
He appealed to the crowd to sign up for healthcare exchanges, striking an us-versus-them approach.
"Part of the reason I need your help to make this law work is that there are so many people out there working [against it]," he said.
Obama disputed harsh rhetoric from his critics, including one who argued that the ACA would kill women, children and senior citizens.
“Now, that was from six months ago. We still have women; we still have children; we still have senior citizens,” he told a chuckling crowd. “All of this would be funny if it weren’t so crazy.”
KEEPING COSTS DOWN
Uninsured Americans can begin signing up for health insurance Oct. 1 and have up to six months to choose their health insurance plans. Those who sign up immediately will be insured as of Jan. 1.
"There's been a lot of things said, a lot of misinformation, a lot of confusion, but there are few things more fundamental to economic security to the middle class, and everyone that's trying to get into the middle class, than health care," Obama said.
Because insurance companies will be competing for business, many plans will cost much less than they do now, Obama said, and 95 percent of Americans should see lower costs than previously expected.
A family of four making $60,000 could get coverage for as little as $164 a month, he said, with an unmarried 25-year-old paying about $80 on a $25,000 annual salary.
"All told, nearly 6 in 10 Americans without health insurance today will be able to get covered for $100 or less," Obama said.
In states where the federal government helps run the exchanges, the average American will have more than 50 plans to choose from with differing levels of coverage.
"Competition, choice, transparency -- all of these things are keeping costs down," he said.
All plans will be required to include free checkups, flu shots and contraceptive care, so Americans may get more back than they are paying in premiums.
"And once it's working really well, I guarantee you they will not call it 'Obamacare'," he said.
SEN. BEN CARDIN: "WE'RE GOING FORWARD"
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Donna Edwards and Sen. Ben Cardin addressed the crowd before the president appeared.
"We're not gonna let it happen!" Cardin said of the GOP's attempts to defund the ACA. "We're not going to let insurance companies again deny pre-existing conditions.... We're not going back; we're going forward."
"Health care is a right, not a privilege," he said, a point Obama later made repeatedly Thursday.
In advance of Obama's speech, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who wants the law repealed, dismissed the speech as "happy talk.'' He said skeptical Americans were tuning Obama out.