Reporting US health care reform abroad

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Audio Transcript:

DAVID BARON: Passage of President Obama's health care overhaul made headlines around the globe. The foreign reports who covered the debate and last night's vote, include the Washington Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, Mitch Potter, and Gregor Schmitz, he's the U.S. Correspondent for German's news magazine, Der Spiegel. Both are in Washington. Mitch Potter, to you first, how are Canadians reading the story of health care reform in America today?

MITCH POTTER: Well it's a bit of a paradox. Canadians have been fascinated by this all along. On one hand I think Canadians in large part are sort of cheering on Americans. It in a sense validates the system we have. We know that what President Obama has brought forward here is not a Canadian style system, but it's moving in that direction and I think Canadians feel validated by the fact that the United States is moving in our direction, if you will.

BARON: Right, well it would be interesting to point out that among some groups, Canada has been a bit of a punching bag. People have said this is what we don't want to become. We don't want Canada's health care system.

POTTER: It's true and it's really been a political pi�ata. Time and again the Canadian system has been cherry picked with isolate horror stories being conflated into something to scare away Americans. And that, truly, has annoyed Canadians. A lot of Canadians have taken offense as they have watched this play out.

BARON: Now Gregor Schmitz, you had an opinion piece in Der Spiegel today and the headline reads "U.S. Health Care Good for America, Bad for the World". Now what do you mean by that?

GREGOR SCHMITZ: Well I think if you look at the more recent debates you see there is a real risk that Obama might become a one issue President. And I think if you look more closely at his speeches over the past weeks or months, there was basically no reference to other conflicts, or say other challenges, let's say Afghanistan, even though soldiers are fighting there increasingly there now in recent weeks or months.

BARON: Because he's been so wrapped up in health care.

SCHMITZ: Exactly he has been so wrapped up in health care and I don't think anyone has predicted for this to drag out for so long. So I think there is a real risk. If you look at other parts of the world, particularly Europe, they are becoming a little disillusioned by a lack of interest. He had to cancel the trip to Asia which I think was understandable in the context of the health care debate. But still, it sent a signal to the rest of the world that this is the most important issue to us, understandably, and we don't really care about the other challenges. So I think there is a real risk for him to become a one issue President.

BARON: Well something I would like both of you to address is the way that Barack Obama is perceived around the world. We know that when he was elected President in 2008 he was extremely popular in other countries. How popular is Barack Obama in your countries now and I wonder to what extent have people in your countries been cheering on health care reform in the U.S. because they wanted to see President Obama succeed. Mitch Potter, let's start with you from Canada.

POTTER: Well I think that's largely the case with Canadians. There's a recognition that we may not have a force in this health care fight, but if anybody is looking to see an Obama administration assert itself on other foreign files, they recognize that he needs a victory. You can debate the wisdom of whether to have invested do much political capital to make health care his signature project was the right thing to do, but imagine how politically ham strung he would be in trying to pursue the rest of his agenda if this had all fallen apart on him and he would be approaching these mid-term elections with absolutely nothing to show for this first period of his Presidency.

BARON: But bottom line he is still popular in Canada?

POTTER: Definitely.

BARON: And in Germany Gregor Schmitz? What is President Obama's approval rating over there these days?

SCHMITZ: It probably has slipped from 99% to 97%. I think overall he is still very popular in Europe and I think it is true in this regard when you look at health care that it is not about Obama. It is about America. Mitch has already alluded to that. Europeans are cheering on the Americans because for them it's just beyond imagination that the richest country on earth hasn't been able, for so long, to provide basic health care coverage to every citizen. So for Europeans that is more of a moral issue. Frankly, they just don't get it. And I think on this specific issue, Obama is getting a pass. I think they look at Washington and they basically blame the Republicans for blocking everything. But one thing that I think is missing in the European debate that makes it harder for us to explain the debates here in the U.S. is the fact that many Americans are actually happy with the health care system. When Europeans look at the American health care system, they don't fully understand that the people who are a part of the system now, who have coverage, who have insurance are often very happy with the way they are being treated and with their options. So I think that is something we need to explain to our readers that these debates are so fierce because it is the question of whether they want to extend that coverage or an offer of more solidarity to other Americans and whether they want to include the people that are left out right now.

BARON: Well gentlemen I expect you didn't get all that much sleep last night. Thank you for coming in. It was good to talk to you. Mitch Potter is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, thank you Mitch.

POTTER: Thank you very much.

BARON: And Gregor Schmitz is U. S. Correspondent for Der Spiegel in Germany, thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thanks for having me.