World

Obama set to make pre-emptive strike

President heads to Capitol Hill to rally lawmakers on Obamacare

WASHINGTON US President Barack Obama will make a short but politically charged trip from the White House to Capitol Hill, calling allied lawmakers to arms in defence of his signature healthcare reforms.

Mr Obama's eight-year drive to extend medical coverage to tens of millions of Americans will come under sustained assault when President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan 20 with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

In a pre-emptive strike, Mr Obama will meet Senate and House Democrats, "principally (to) discuss how to counter the stated Republican objective of repealing the Affordable Care Act", said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Mr Obama's rare legislative pilgrimage coincides with a visit to the Congress by incoming vice-president Mike Pence.

"We're focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare," Mr Pence said on Tuesday.

"We look forward to legislation that will give us the tools to roll back the avalanche of red tape and regulation that have been stifling American jobs."

After a crushing election loss, Democrats may have limited options for stalling reforms without significant Republican defections.

They also face criticism that Mr Obama's reforms have led to rising insurance premiums and technical problems.

But while Republican opposition to Obamacare is clear, their prescription to fix it is not.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed a tax credit system as a possible replacement, but the costs to government and individuals remain vague.

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Some Republicans have suggested repealing Obamacare now and replacing it later, perhaps after the next election.

But the White House is betting that US voters will react with fury if Mr Trump moves to strip millions of coverage with no viable alternative.

They are hoping that public outcry could force Mr Trump to confront some of the more ideologically driven reforms proposed by his own party.

He is seen as highly sensitive about his public standing.

He has been quick to tweet defensively about perceived slights or reminders that despite his electoral college victory in the elections, rival Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost three million ballots.

Mr Trump comes to office with 48 per cent of Americans polled by Gallup believing he is handling the transition effectively, far less than the 75 per cent approval Mr Obama enjoyed.

Republican legislators are eager to take charge after eight years of fighting against Mr Obama's policies.

But some are wary that white working class Americans, who delivered them to office, may bear the brunt of any reforms.

Gutting Obamacare could also have knock-on effects for funding healthcare for retirees, a group essential to the Republican Party's survival.

In these issues, Democrats see points they hope to exploit in defence of Mr Obama's plan.

"It's not surprising to me there are Republicans who are now a little queasy about the prospect of the impact that repealing Obamacare would have on their own supporters," said Mr Earnest.

"We know there are people across the country who benefit from this law, who are protected by this law, whose lives have been saved by this law." - AFP

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