CLEVELAND — President Obama came out swinging Thursday to defend his signature health-care law despite problems plaguing its rollout and even threw a laurel to Ohio’s Republican governor in the process.
“John Kasich, along with a lot of state legislators who are here today, have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,” he told several hundred gathered at a warehouse at the 100-year-old ArcelorMittal Cleveland mill along the Cuyahoga River.
“Think about that,” he said. “Just because of one step, 275,000 Ohioans are going to have health insurance, and it doesn’t depend on a Web site. That’s already happening because of the Affordable Care Act. It’s fair to say the governor didn’t do it because he loves me so much. We don’t agree on much, but he saw what makes sense. ...
“It was the right thing to do, and if every Republican governor did what Kasich did here rather than play politics about it, you’d have another 5 million Americans who can get access to health care next year regardless of what happens with the Web site,” he said.
The praise for the governor came moments after Mr. Obama mentioned that he’d met Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald upon his arrival at the airport. Mr. FitzGerald did not attend the speech, and the President made no mention that he is Mr. Kasich’s Democratic opponent next year.
The President visited the steel mill to refocus debate on elements of his agenda that have been overshadowed by technological problems associated with the rollout of the health-care law. But he vowed that criticism would not force him to retreat.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure every American has access to quality affordable health care,” he said. “You may have read we had problems last month with the Web sites. I’m not happy about that ... ”
Before boarding his plane for Cleveland along with U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Mr. Obama held a quick news conference in Washington to announce a change addressing complaints over the cancellations of some individual policies under the law despite past assurances that Americans could keep their existing policies if they wanted. Insurance firms would have the option of at least temporarily renewing existing policies even if they don’t meet the minimum coverage requirements under the law.
The ArcelorMittal Cleveland mill, the largest producer of steel for a strengthening auto manufacturing industry, has proved to be a bright spot in a steel industry that had struggled in recent years to compete globally. The facility furloughed its workers during the depths of the recession in 2009 but has since brought back those workers plus 150 more.
Mr. Obama noted many plants would not have come back from that closure. “That could have devastated this community for good, but we rolled up our sleeves,” he said, referring to the federal bailout of the auto industry. “We made some tough choices ... We bet on American ingenuity and American workers, and assembly lines started humming again.”
He said the plant’s story has been repeated across the country. The mill also received help from the state in the form of a 75 percent, 15-year job-creation tax credit beginning in 2002. It has until the end of the year to meet its commitment of 1,400 jobs, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency. The mill also received a $63,996 job-training grant.
The stop allowed Mr. Obama to again bring attention to the gains seen in the auto industry, particularly in Ohio, since General Motors and Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy.
While Mr. Obama wanted to move on from the troubled rollout of his health-care reform law, Ohio Republicans weren’t willing.
“Ohioans are seeing their premiums and deductibles rise, their work hours cut, and their policies that the President promised they could keep canceled,” said Matt Borges, Ohio Republican Party chairman. “The problems of Obamacare go far beyond a failed Web site. Real lives of real Ohioans are being hurt. Ohio Republicans have long fought against Obamacare and warned that it was doomed to failure. Now it is an albatross around the necks of Ohio Democrats who have wholeheartedly endorsed it.”
Mr. Obama’s speech came as Maryland-based Lockheed Martin announced it would slash 4,000 jobs nationwide and close plants, including one in Akron.
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