From NBC's Athena Jones
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- This is the state where Barack Obama's quixotic quest for the presidency began and this is the city where, seven months before the caucuses, he laid out his plan for overhauling the nation's health care system. Two facts the president touched on here, during his first trip since signing the landmark health care bill into law.
Today's visit was part victory lap, part sales pitch as the president tries to reassure voters who are still skeptical about the law that it will help not hurt their health coverage. The White House is well aware that many of the Democrats who supported the legislation did so at some political cost and that it's imperative for them to try to frame the debate over the law as a victory for ordinary Americans over insurance companies.
"Today, health insurance reform is the law of the land all across America," he told the crowd packed into a field house at the University of Iowa. "This is your victory, because when the special interests sent an army of lobbyists to Congress, they blanketed the airwaves with million of dollars of negative ads, you mobilized and you organized and you refused to give up."
With Republicans planning their November campaigns around a platform to repeal and replace the bill -- a long shot given the president's veto power -- administration officials have gleefully dared the opposition to try to win votes by promising to take away the benefits the new law grants -- like a ban on lifetime coverage limits, a requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions, prescription drug help for seniors and tax credits for small businesses that provide health coverage for their employees.
"They're actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November," Obama said. "My attitude is go for it. If these congressmen in Washington want to come here to Iowa and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest."
The administration is trying to counter the steady drumbeat of messaging from Republicans who say the plan, which expands coverage to 32 million people, is too costly, that it will raise premiums and taxes, kill jobs and reduce the quality of care -- all points House Minority Leader John Boehner raised in an op-ed published in the Des Moines Register ahead of the president's arrival. At one point, Obama mocked Republicans for suggesting the passage of the bill would lead to "the end of the world".
"So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling or some cracks opening up in the earth," he said to laughter and applause. "Turned out it was a nice day; birds were chirping, folks were strolling down the mall, people still had their doctors. From this day forward, all of the cynics and the naysayers they're going to have to finally confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn't."
The president was interrupted at one point in his speech by a man who shouted a question about why the so-called public option was not included in the bill. Obama said the public option could not get through Congress and that while the law he signed on Tuesday wasn't perfect, it was a start.
"What this is is a historic step to enshrine the principle that everybody gets health care coverage in this country, every single person," he said. "This is a common sense bill that doesn't do everything that everybody wants, but it moves us in the direction of universal health care coverage in this country and that's what everybody here fought so hard for."