WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama ridiculed opposition to his 10-month-old health care law Friday and vowed to oppose efforts to repeal it, underscoring his commitment to his signature legislative achievement despite the new reality of a divided Congress.
Days after delivering a State of the Union message in which he called on Democrats and Republicans to work together, Obama made clear in a speech to supporters that he's open to compromise on the issue only on the margins — a "tweak" here or there, but not major changes.
"I am not willing to just refight the battles of the last two years," said the president, who saw his popularity plummet and some in his own party distance themselves amid the partisan debates over the health care law. "I'm not open to efforts that will take this law apart without considering the lives and the livelihoods that hang in the balance."
The House, with Republicans newly in control, voted to repeal the health care law last week. Republicans have vowed to seek a similar vote in the Senate, but are unlikely to prevail as Democrats still control that chamber. The White House has dismissed the effort as an empty gesture.
Yet, the president is not ignoring the congressional challenge. He stood up for the bill in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night and reiterated his support with a mocking rebuttal to the GOP on Friday in a speech to the consumer group Families USA, which advocated for the health law.
"You may have heard once or twice that this is a job-crushing, granny-threatening, budget-busting monstrosity. That's about how it's been portrayed by opponents. And that just doesn't match up to the reality," the president said.
He argued that since he signed the bill 10 months ago to extend coverage to 30 million uninsured, the economy has grown and small businesses are offering health care to employees, many for the first time, because of tax credits offered in the law. He said that repealing the law would add to the deficit — though if that happened it would be only because the many taxes, fees and Medicare cuts in the law would be lost. And the president said the elderly are benefiting from a stronger Medicare, and those who fell into a gap in Medicare's prescription drug program are receiving relief.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fired back. "We need to repeal this bill and replace it with commonsense reforms," he said.