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Although Democrats represent Mr. Obama’s biggest challenge right now, the president fed his party plenty of red meat. He derided former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, for her charge that his health care plan would set up “death panels” that decide who gets care and who doesn’t.

“Such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible,” he said. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York teetered with laughter.

And he brought whooping cheers from his side of the aisle when he declared: “I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. … If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out.”

Mr. Obama’s serious delivery slipped only occasionally in the speech. He flashed a broad smile when Republicans gave him a rare standing ovation after he outlined a modest pilot program to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, a longtime GOP goal opposed by the powerful trial lawyer lobby, which overwhelmingly backs Democrats.

At that point, Democrats sat quietly.

Joseph Curl can be reached at