Obama sharply critical of Republican opponents of healthcare law

By Mark Felsenthal

LARGO, Maryland (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama lashed out at Republican opponents of the healthcare law he pioneered on Thursday ahead of a key deadline for enrollment and vowed that he would stop attempts to get the program bogged down in an ongoing budget stalemate.

In a feisty speech at a Washington-area college, Obama defended the 2010 Affordable Care Act against Republican critics who say it is an example of government gone too far.

"The Affordable Care Act is here to stay," he said.

He singled out for ridicule a Republican state lawmaker who said the law is as destructive to personal liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required captured runaway slaves to be sent back to their owners.

"Think about that: Affordable healthcare is worse than a law that let slave owners get their runaway slaves back," Obama said. "All of this would be funny if it wasn't so crazy."

The Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature achievement from his first term, is still regarded skeptically by a majority of Americans who worry that it will lead to higher healthcare costs and cut jobs.

It faces a crucial test starting next Tuesday when Americans begin enrolling in exchanges through which they will be able to buy health insurance. Computer glitches are slowing the rollout in areas such as Washington D.C., Colorado and Oregon.

"Like any product launch there are going to be some glitches," Obama told a crowd of about 1,800 people at Prince George's Community College.

His greater concern is preventing Obamacare from getting ensnared in efforts by Republicans in Congress to defund it in exchange for their agreement to approve spending measures to keep the government running and extend the U.S. borrowing limit.

Obama faces two critical deadlines. The federal government will be forced to shut down on Tuesday if a spending measure is not approved, and will run out of money to pay its bills on October 17 unless the debt ceiling is raised.

Obama said Republicans fear Americans will come to like the healthcare law, saying their strategy is basically, "'We've got to shut this thing down before people find out that they like it.'"

"Don't you think that's a strange argument? And the closer we get, the more desperate they get," he said.

Republican Representative Diane Black, citing what she called multiple reports of increases in insurance premiums resulting from the law, criticized Obama for pushing Americans to "sign up for this train wreck when there are so many problems resulting from the law."

"Anyone reading the news knows that this law is not workable, and time is running short for the president to work with Congress to help shield the American people from this impending disaster," she said. (Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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