The chairman of the Republican party has accused President Barack Obama of leading a shadowy "cabal" to shepherd government-run health care through Congress, as a new poll finds for the first time that fewer than 50 percent of Americans approve of the way the president has handled the issue.
Michael Steele, in remarks prepared for delivery at the National Press Club, accused the president, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key congressional committee chairmen "risky experimentation," saying they will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverage.
"Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions," Steele said in excerpts of his speech made available in advance.
Obama has repeatedly said he does not favor a government-run health care system. Legislation taking shape in the House envisions private insurance companies selling coverage in competition with the government.
Even so, numerous Republicans in Congress continue to level the accusation at Obama and congressional Democrats, and Steele did so in sharply critical terms.
"Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won't stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That's why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington," the party chairman said in advance excerpts. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is Senate majority leader; Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Republican officials said they were supplementing Steele's speech with a round of television advertising designed to oppose government-run health care. No details were immediately available on the areas where the commercials would run or their cost.
In his speech, Steele broadened his attack beyond health care to question Obama's truthfulness.
The president "tells us he doesn't want to spend more than we have, he doesn't want the deficit to go up, he doesn't want to live off borrowed money. But he also told us he didn't want to run an auto company. President Obama justifies this spending by saying the devil made him do it. He doesn't want to spend trillions we can't afford, but he says he just can't help it," Steele said in the prepared excerpts.
The Republican chairman is making his speech at a time when Obama is struggling to advance his trademark health care proposal after a period of evident progress.
In April, 57 percent of Americans supported the president's handling of the health care issue, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. That support has since plummeted to 49 percent, though Obama still maintains more support on the issue than his GOP rivals. Fifty-four percent of Americans also approve the "outlines" of the health care overhaul legislation working its way through Congress, the Post reported.
Two of three House committees have approved their portions of the bill, while one of two Senate panels have acted.
But conservative Democrats have raised objections to some elements of the legislation, and efforts in the Senate to reach a bipartisan agreement have yet to bear fruit. Obama's attempt to impose an early August deadline on both the House and Senate for passage of legislation is in jeopardy.