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Obama's Health Care-Infused, Fire-Stoked Week



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama told residents of Colorado yesterday that the country has their back. The president visited an evacuation center and met with some of the firefighters who have been battling the deadly Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs.

The visit came at the end of an eventful week for President Obama. His signature health care law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, but his attorney general was cited for contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama got a glimpse of the Waldo Canyon fire from Air Force One, as he flew into Colorado Springs. But it was only on the ground that he could smell the smoke and see the true cost: hundreds of houses, burned down to their foundations.

Walking through the deserted Mountain Shadows neighborhood, the president saw homes where nothing is left but a trickle of water from exposed pipe. Nearby, other homes are still standing. He spoke with a group of firefighters who managed to save three houses.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For those families, the work and the sacrifice of those firefighters means the world to them. And they are genuine heroes.

HORSLEY: Later, the president visited a firehouse where crews were coming off a 12-hour shift. He vowed the federal government will do everything it can to support them.

OBAMA: One of the things that I've tried to emphasize is that whether it's fires in Colorado or flooding in the northern parts of Florida, when natural disasters like this hit, America comes together.

HORSLEY: Even in swing states like these, there's not much question about the government's role in responding to natural disasters. But what about medical disasters? The controversial health care law Mr. Obama signed two years ago is expected to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million people.

On Thursday, when the Supreme Court upheld that law, Mr. Obama said in a country as rich as this, no one should face financial ruin just because they get sick.

OBAMA: Whatever the politics, today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court's decision to uphold it.

HORSLEY: The politics are still a question mark. Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney has promised to repeal the health care law. He raised millions of dollars from the measure's opponents in the wake of the high court's decision.

MITT ROMNEY: What the court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy.

HORSLEY: But for all the talk about health care, the number one issue for most voters in November is still likely to be the economy. Congress offered a small boost this week when it agreed to keep funding highway projects, and to preserve low interest rates on student loans. A bigger boost may have come from Europe, where leaders made progress on a financial firewall, to keep the debt crisis from spreading.

The stock market cheered the news with the Dow soaring 277 points yesterday. White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One, the developments in Europe are a positive step.

JAY CARNEY: What happens in the eurozone affects the American economy and it's in our national interest for Europe to take the action necessary to hold the eurozone together and rebuild confidence, stability, and growth.

HORSLEY: Carney cautioned, though, Europe's problems won't be extinguished quickly. The political winds could shift again, kicking up another financial firestorm.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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