Obama says jobs have always been his highest priority

Jon Ward Contributor
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President Obama on Thursday night tried to reassure his most loyal supporters that he still plans to deliver on the main goal of his first year – health-care reform – even as he said that jobs are now his top priority.

“Our most urgent task is job creation — that was our number one priority last year, it’s our number one priority this year,” Obama told about 700 people at the Washington Hilton at an event organized by the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, the group that grew out of his presidential campaign.

But the president’s claim that jobs were his main focus last year was belied by his own words and actions. He said last July that health care was his “highest legislative priority.”

In September, he called Congress together for a joint session speech — an extremely rare occurrence — strictly to talk about health care. He spoke for 45 minutes, and used the word job only eight times.

Health-care talks have collapsed since Republican Scott Brown defeated a Democrat in Massachusetts to take Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat away from Democrats. Brown was seated on Thursday.

Obama more than once indicated that the message from Massachusetts was that he needed to focus more on the economy and jobs.

“We’re going to be moving a jobs package forward over the next several weeks; that’s the thing that’s most urgent right now in the minds of Americans all across the country,” he said.

He also plaintively denied that Americans want nothing done to fix rising health-care costs: “that can’t be the message that the American people are delivering,” he said.

“I know they don’t want to just offer nothing to the millions of people in America” without health insurance, he said. “That’s what we campaigned on.”

The president proposed a vague process in which he would “have a meeting whereby I’m sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health-care experts, and let’s just go through these bills.”

He proposed to compare ideas between parties and “walk through them in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense.”

But he also said that Democrats should “take our time” on health care, a line sure to disappoint many of the most liberal supporters in the audience who want him to push a bill through Congress as soon as possible.

And on Friday morning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs knocked down the idea that there was any specific or formal plan to do what the president had talked about.

“There’s nothing on the block on this right now,” Gibbs said to reporters in his office.

The president, who has been pilloried by many in the liberal grassroots, as well as Democratic lawmakers, for not doing enough to guide and lead the health-care process through Congress, made it clear that he would hold Congress responsible if no bill is passed.

“If Congress decides we’re not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not,” Obama said. “There will be elections coming up and they’ll be able to make a determination and register their concerns one way or the other during election time.”

After his event at the Hilton, Obama spoke at a DNC high-stakes fundraiser for about 140 supporters, at a price of about $30,400 a couple, according to a DNC official. The two events raised between $2 and $3 milllion.