- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In strident, fiery and often melodic phrasing, President Obama delivered a scathing denunciation of opponents to his health care reform efforts at a Congressional Black Caucus event on Saturday. He said detractors are trying to impede his efforts to overhaul the health care system, and he scolded those who say he is “moving too fast when it comes to health insurance reform.”

“They’re telling us to slow down,” Mr. Obama told the mostly black audience at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Awards Dinner. “They’re telling us to wait.”

The call-and-response captured the sentiment of frustration among many of the 4,000 attendees at the awards dinner, held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

“For the sake of every living American today and for the sake of every American yet to be born, we must bring about a better health care system in this country - not in 10 years, not in five years, not in one year - this year,” Mr. Obama said as the crowd responded with cheers. “We have been waiting for health reform since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. We’ve been waiting since the days of Harry Truman. We’ve been waiting since Johnson and Nixon and Clinton.”

After several repetitions of the “we have been waiting” refrain, the president said “we cannot wait any longer” for health care reform.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over. There comes a time to remember the fierce urgency of right now. Now is the time to enact health-insurance reform in the United States of America. Now is the time to offer stability and security to Americans who have insurance,” Mr. Obama said. “Now is the time to make it affordable for those who don’t have health insurance. Now is the time to slow the growth of health care costs for our families, business and government. That’s the kind of reform we need. Now is the time.”

Mr. Obama did not mention the public-option component, which has drawn criticism in the House and the Senate.

Reaction was swift from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has no Republicans in its membership. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland said he “would be extremely concerned” if the health care bill reached the president’s desk but did not contain a public-option provision.

“The only way to properly control the cost of health care and these premiums that are rising faster than wages and faster than inflation is to have a public option,” said Mr. Cummings, an early supporter of Mr. Obama’s presidential bid. “The other problem is we need to provide some kind of competition for these insurance companies. For example, in the state of Maryland, there are two companies that have 80 percent of the business. That’s not competition.”

According to CBC polling, 90 percent of its members support a public option, Mr. Cummings said.

“It would be hard for me to support a bill that does not support a public option,” said Delegate Donna M.C. Christensen, the Virgin Islands’ nonvoting congressional representative. “I want to make sure that we find ways to make health care affordable and accessible to everyone in this country.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has launched a campaign called Campaign 880 in support of the president’s health care reform efforts. The civil rights group chose that number because it represents the 880,000 black people whose deaths would have been prevented if health care reform had been enacted in the last decade, said NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Jealous. The NAACP is encouraging people to log on to its Web site and tell their experiences with the health care system and sign a petition that will be submitted to members of Congress.

“The only bill that we’re interested in is a bill that gets rid of the problem of the uninsured in the country - the 46 million people in this country who are uninsured,” Mr. Jealous said. “We are fighting hard for a public option. We don’t see any road to victory on this issue that does not include one.”

• Joseph Young is a writer living in Washington.

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