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Obama accuses Republicans of 'fixation' against healthcare law

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, August 9, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday launched an aggressive defense of his landmark healthcare law, attacking Republicans for seeking its repeal without offering a substitute for the millions of Americans who would be left uninsured.

With enrollment set to begin on October 1 for individuals who want to receive health insurance under the 2010 law, Obama used a White House press conference to counter a massive Republican campaign to discredit and destroy the new program, including a threat by some Congressional Republicans to insist on repeal as a condition of funding the government.

"The really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting healthcare their holy grail," Obama told reporters.

Saying that Republicans have "an ideological fixation" against "Obamacare," the Democratic president added, "The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don't have healthcare."

Obama has been battling Republicans over universal health insurance since 2009, when he launched an effort in Congress to also clamp down on insurance companies' ability to deny coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions and place caps on individuals' lifetime insurance benefits.

The enactment of the Democratic legislation in 2010 has been met with repeated attempts by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to kill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also has continued to hammer away against the law. On his 2014 re-election website, McConnell leads with the message: "It's time to repeal Obamacare, root and branch!"

In response to Obama's news conference remarks, Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, said, "Obamacare increases costs, turns full-time jobs into part-time jobs and reduces the quality of care."

Cooper urged passage of Republican legislation that would delay the startup of the healthcare sign-up program for individuals, just as Obama has done for certain employers.

In early July, the Obama administration, in a surprise announcement, said it was delaying until 2015 the requirement for employer-provided health insurance.

The "employer mandate" would level a $2,000 fine for every full-time employee without coverage. But the law exempts small companies with 30 workers or fewer.

The administration said the delay would give government and businesses more time to prepare for the program, while Republicans said it underscored that the law was unworkable.

Republicans attacked Obama for unilaterally delaying the provision of the law, saying he went beyond his presidential powers.

Defending his decision, Obama said it was done after consulting with "businesses all across the country."

He added that "in a normal political environment" he would have preferred to telephone House Speaker John Boehner and seek a legislative "tweak" to the law to delay the employer mandate.

But having spent more than four years battling Republicans over healthcare, budget cuts, tax increases and immigration reform, Obama's relations with Republicans in Congress are frayed.

"We're not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to 'Obamacare,'" he said.

(Editing by Fred Barbash)

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