WASHINGTON - Using better-than-expected jobs numbers to press his top domestic priority, President Obama is arguing that overhauling the healthcare system is essential to the country’s economic well-being.
Republicans countered that the high unemployment rate - 9.4 percent in July - shows that families and businesses are struggling and that Obama’s reliance on a large government role in expanding health coverage is the wrong approach.
A net total of 247,000 jobs were lost last month, the fewest in a year and a drastic improvement from the 443,000 that vanished in June as the United States tries to pull out from the worst recession since World War II.
“We’ve begun to put the brakes on this recession and . . . the worst may be behind us,’’ Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address yesterday.
He cited Friday’s Labor Department report that showed a dip in unemployment, but said: “We must do more than rescue our economy from this immediate crisis. We must rebuild it stronger than before.’’
It’s a pitch that is being made as the Democratic-controlled Congress struggles to write a healthcare plan that meets Obama’s goals of expanding coverage to millions of uninsured while reining in exploding costs.
“So far they have produced a measure that they cannot sell even to their own members,’’ Mitch McConnell, Senate GOP leader, said in a jab at majority Democrats. “The only thing bipartisan, so far, is the opposition.’’
With lawmakers embarking on a monthlong summer break, opponents and supporters of various proposals under consideration are waging fierce campaigns. Obama is redoubling his effort to explain his positions to a public that polls suggest is becoming increasingly wary he can deliver on his promise to revamp healthcare.
The president argued that Congress was close to finalizing “real health insurance reform,’’ but, as he has for weeks now, he warned against listening to opponents who he said were spewing misleading information and outlandish claims to defeat “the best chance of reform we have ever had.’’
Obama was getting a boost from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who as the wife of a president led the failed effort in the 1990s to overhaul healthcare. In an interview with CNN set to air today, Clinton called the latest work by Congress on the issue “a very healthy process,’’ though she acknowledge serious differences in viewpoints that must be bridged.