Obama Addresses Congress on Health-Care Reform

After a summer of setbacks, President Barack Obama summoned Congress to enact health care legislation Wednesday, declaring the 'time for bickering is over' and the moment has arrived to help millions who have insurance and more without it. Video by AP
By Ceci Connolly and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Declaring that the "time for bickering is over," President Obama sought to revive the prospects for far-reaching health-care legislation Wednesday night, pressing lawmakers to act this year on his signature domestic priority.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Obama put the weight of his office behind a bill that would impose strict new insurance protections, expand government health programs for the working poor and launch pilot projects aimed at reducing medical malpractice lawsuits.

"We did not come here just to clean up crises, we came to build a future," he said in a measured tone that belied the ferocious battles of recent weeks. "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."

Obama delivered the speech at a critical moment in his presidency, as he seeks to simultaneously rally allies and rebut an onslaught of attacks that have taken their toll on his push for reform and his popularity.

In a 47-minute direct appeal to Main Street, Obama laid out his case for a 10-year, $900 billion plan that would build on the current employer-based health-care system with new requirements on individuals and businesses to contribute to the costs of coverage. And on the controversial issue of a new government-run insurance option, he maintained his flexibility, saying, "If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen."

While he sought to ease the concerns of average Americans, he at times adopted a scolding tone toward critics, dismissing as "a lie, plain and simple" the rumors that "death panels" would be created under Democratic proposals.

In an incident that recalled the raucous town hall meetings of August, Republican Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) shouted "You lie" and "Not true" from the chamber floor when Obama said his plans would not cover illegal immigrants or provide funding for abortions. GOP leaders condemned Wilson's comments, and he later apologized.

As he laid out his views for overhauling the nation's health-care system, Obama made clear his belief in the power of government to improve lives, declaring that "the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little."

But the speech also reflected the pragmatism of a politician keenly aware of the skepticism of many Americans about empowered bureaucrats.

Urged by allies in recent weeks to be more assertive, Obama condemned what he called the "partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government."

After months of leaving the bill-writing to Congress, he for the first time spoke of "my plan," though many questions remained about the details of his proposal.

At the same time, he declined to put an end to bitter intraparty divisions over the question of a government-run insurance option for individuals and small businesses that have difficulty buying coverage in the private market.

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