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On Conservative Talk Show, Obama Reassures A Supporter

President Obama went on Michael Smerconish's radio show anticipating some tough questions from across the ideological divide. But one of the callers who got to pose a question to him was actually a supporter, who expressed concern that Obama was "buckling" to Republicans on health care when it was the Democrats who had the majority.

"It's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with you," the caller, Joe, asked.

Obama acknowledged the "hand-wringing," but said that passing a major bill like this is "always messy."

"My attitude has always been let's see if we can get this done with some consensus," he explained. But, he claimed, there was "early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership" to deny him a victory, so that "maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94," as he put it, referring to President Clinton's failed health care effort.

"I think there's some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook. But this shouldn't be a political issue," he said. "There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. ... I want to give them a chance to work through these processes." He singled out Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snow -- those working in the bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee.

"We're happy to make sensible compromises. What we're not willing to do is give up on the core principle that Americans who don't have health insurance should get it," he said.

Obama also again touched on some hot button issues, and was asked about whether illegal immigrants would benefit from the reforms he's proposing. The president denied that there are any proposals to expand coverage for them, but when pressed by Smerconish, acknowledged that they would likely still get free care in emergency rooms.

"We don't want a situation in which some child, even if they're an illegal immigrant, shows up in an emergency room with tuberculosis and nobody is giving them treatment, and then they're going back to the playground and playing next to our kids," he said. "I think there is a basic standard of decency where if somebody is in a death situation or a severe illness, that we're going to provide them emergency care."