Obama asks Congress to pass health bill
Seizing control of the rowdy health care debate, President Obama implored feuding lawmakers Wednesday night to pass a plan that would require all Americans to buy insurance and all companies to help cover the costs, but he stopped short of mandating a government-run option that befuddled Congress and angered many Americans during a summer of political tumult.
Using the rare and grand forum of a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama said he personally supports creating a pool of affordable insurance plans in the marketplace that included a narrow public option for the uninsured. But he said he considered the public option “a means” to achieving the goal of universal health care and that he was open to other solutions.
He warned liberal Democrats not to be obstinate on the public option and extended his hand to Republicans. He praised Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, for contributing an idea to the debate — while insisting he won’t let Republicans spread false political attacks to stop the plan.
“The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed,” Mr. Obama said. “Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.”
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Not everyone was ready to leave behind the rancor behind. Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, shouted, “You lie,” as the president said he didn’t intend to cover illegal immigrants.
After a summer of contentious town-hall meetings where Americans protested his efforts to create a government-run health insurance plan, and with polls showing two-thirds of voters are still confused by his plans, Mr. Obama’s address was the biggest gambit of his young presidency. He promised to avoid creating a new health care bureaucracy that would interfere with care.
“I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need,” he said, directly addressing a fear expressed by many Americans during nationwide town-hall meetings in August. He said he wasn’t interested in putting private insurance out of business but simply to hold them accountable.
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He noted he was personally injecting himself into a debate that he said has gone on for nearly a century, and said he’s not the first president to tackle this cause, “but I am determined to be the last.” And, seeking to counter what he said are misrepresentations, he chastised top Republican politicians for claiming his bill would create “death panels” with the power to decide is someone should receive life-extending care.
“Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple,” Mr. Obama said, also decrying claims that Democrats’ proposals would expand taxpayer funding of abortions or would provide insurance benefits for illegal immigrants.
Republicans said Mr. Obama missed an opportunity by not completely disavowing the public option.
“Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality,” Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., Louisiana Republican, said in the official Republican response. “That’s what I heard over the past several months in talking to thousands of my constituents.”
Mr. Boustany, a doctor with more than 20 years’ experience, said Mr. Obamas plan would add dozens of new bureaucracies, balloon the debt and lead to cuts in Medicare.
In a silent protest, Republicans held up copies of Republican bills during the speech to show they are trying to offer alternatives.
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