WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says requiring people to get health insurance and fining them if they don't would not amount to a backhanded tax increase. "I absolutely reject that notion," the president said.
Blanketing most of the Sunday TV news shows, Obama defended his proposed health care overhaul, including a key point of the various health care bills on Capitol Hill: mandating that people get health insurance to share the cost burden fairly among all. Those who failed to get coverage would face financial penalties.
Obama said other elements of the plan would make insurance affordable for people, from a new comparison-shopping "exchange" to tax credits.
Telling people to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase, Obama told ABC's "This Week."
"What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore," said Obama. "Right now everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase."
Obama faces an enormous political and communications challenge in selling his health care plan as Congress debates how to pay for it all.
He told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he will keep his pledge not to raise taxes on families earning up to $250,000, and that much of the final bill — hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years — can be achieved from savings within the current system. Coming up with the rest remains a key legislative obstacle.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said there is no way Obama can achieve his goals without raising taxes.
"He has to. How else do you pay for it?" Steele told CBS.
Obama put his support behind the idea of taxing employers that offer high-cost insurance plans.
"I do think that giving a disincentive to insurance companies to offer Cadillac plans that don't make people healthier is part of the way that we're going to bring down health care costs for everybody over the long term," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Obama's network interviews were taped Friday at the White House. He became the first president to appear on five Sunday network shows in the same morning, an extraordinary effort to build public support for his top domestic priority.
The goal is to expand and improve health insurance coverage and rein in long-term costs.
Yet despite so many weeks of speeches, town halls and interviews, Obama said he has found it difficult at times to make a complex topic clear and relevant.
"I've tried to keep it digestible," Obama said. "It's very hard for people to get their arms around it. And that's been a case where I have been humbled and I just keep on trying harder."
Obama told Univision's "Al Punto" ("To the Point") that the strong opposition to his plan is part of a political strategy.
"Well, part of it is ... that the opposition has made a decision," he said. "They are just not going to support anything, for political reasons."
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Obama doesn't understand Republicans' opposition.
"I don't know anybody in my Republican conference in the Senate who's in favor of doing nothing on health care," McConnell said. "We obviously have a cost problem and we have an access problem."
But he told CNN's "State of the Union" that the Democrats' plan is simply too rushed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Obama has ignored grave concerns over his plan and his media blitz won't change that.
"The president is selling something that people, quite frankly, are not buying," Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press."