PORTLAND, Maine — Facing a public still wary of his massive health care overhaul, President Barack Obama on Thursday urged Americans not to judge the nearly $1 trillion legislation he signed into law last week until the reforms take hold.
During an enthusiastic, campaign-style appearance in Maine's largest city, Obama mocked the pundits and pollsters who say he isn't getting a boost from his yearlong campaign to pass the sweeping reform.
"Every single day since I signed the reform law, there's been another poll or headline that said, 'Nation still divided on health care reform. Polls haven't changed yet.' Well, yes. It just happened last week," Obama said to laughter.
He continued: "Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm and you planted some seeds, and they came out the next day and they looked and – 'Nothing's happened. There's no crop. We're going to starve. Oh, no! It's a disaster!' It's been a week, folks. So, before we find out if people like health care reform, we should wait to see what happens when we actually put it into place. Just a thought."
The president's overhaul extends health coverage to 32 million people who are uninsured and will shape how almost every American receives and pays for medical treatment. Some aspects of the plan go into effect this year, but the president himself has said it could take four years for the full plan to take hold.
Obama's trip to Portland took him to the home state of two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, whose votes for the legislation the president ardently sought but ultimately could not win. The White House said both senators were invited to attend the event, but neither did.
At a later stop in Boston, Obama celebrated the health care win at a Democratic fundraiser.
He reminded them of the doomsday predictions for health reform about two months ago, when Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat long held by the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. And he drew his laughs with a reference to a slip by Vice President Joe Biden, who had whispered into an open microphone during the overhaul bill signing that it was a "big (expletive) deal."
"As Joe Biden said, who has a way with words, 'This ..." Obama started before the audience cheered. "What? He said it's a big deal."
Even as he reveled in defeating Republican opposition on health care, the president acknowledged that he has not succeeded in breaking down partisan gridlock as promised. "We have to admit that," he said. "I wanted to change the tone in Washington. It hasn't changed. Yet."
On the way to two fundraisers in Boston, Obama made an unscheduled stop in Framingham, Mass., to get a briefing on emergency response efforts to the flooding in the state.
During his earlier speech in Maine, one in a series of appearances to sell the health reforms, Obama focused on his health plan's short- and long-term impact on small businesses, many of which have suffered during the economic downturn.
Under the plan, businesses that have 25 or fewer employees with average annual wages of less than $50,000 will receive tax credits this year if they provide health care coverage to their workers. Those credits are expected to increase by 2014, with 4 million small businesses benefiting, according to the White House.
"This health care tax is pro-jobs, it's pro-business and it starts this year," Obama said.
Also starting in 2014, companies with up to 100 employees will be able to buy insurance through new state-based purchasing pools, or exchanges, with the goal of giving small businesses the same kind of purchasing power as larger companies. About 22 million self-employed Americans will also be able to purchase insurance through the exchanges.
Congressional Republicans were united against the law and many predict that Democrats who voted for it will be dragged down in the November elections. Some Republicans are calling for repeal, and Obama said they should "go for it" but also be prepared to explain why they want to take away tax credits, a ban on denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and other popular elements of the new law.
"If they want to have a fight, I welcome that fight. Because I don't believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat," he said.
Associated Press writers David Sharp and Karen Testa contributed to this report.