Biden: Health Care Bill 'Before Thanksgiving'

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009; 12:27 PM

Vice President Biden predicted Thursday that Congress would complete a health-care reform bill "before Thanksgiving," and said he was heartened that Republican lawmakers quickly condemned a colleague who accused President Obama of lying during his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

"I saw unity in the Congress in terms of the response to Joe Wilson's demeaning comment," Biden said on the "Today" show, referring to the South Carolina lawmaker who shouted, "You lie!" when Obama maintained that his health-care proposals would not include insurance coverage for illegal immigrants.

Appearing before reporters late Thursday morning, a shaken-sounding Wilson repeated his apology and said he regretted his choice of words. At the same time, the lawmaker said he continues to believe that some reform options being considered would result in coverage being offered to illegal immigrants. He said his concerns stem in part from the defeat of two proposed amendments during committee debate this summer. The amendments would have required immigrants to verify their citizenship status before obtaining healthcare coverage.

Obama used a White House appearance before a group of nurses Thursday morning to reiterate the themes of his Congressional address, the goal of which was to reframe the health-care debate after months of acrimony and spur legislators to work with the White House and forge a compromise bill.

"I will not permit reform to be postponed or imperiled by the usual ideological divisions," Obama told the American Nurses Association. He said he was pushing for legislation that would "provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance . . . provide health insurance for those who don't" and slow the rate of cost increases for individuals, businesses and the government.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama's rival for the Oval Office last year, said passing health care reform would be "good for America," but cautioned that the president needs to reach out more to Republicans in order to reach such a compromise.

"We need to do it, but it has to be bipartisan," said McCain, who like Biden made the rounds of the morning television talk shows to comment on Obama's speech Wednesday and its aftermath.

McCain said Obama was right in saying that his proposals would not offer health coverage to people in this country illegally. But he criticized the White House, and Democrats in Congress, for what he said was a failure so far to include Republicans in the health-care negotiations meaningful ways. He also said the cost of reform remains a huge issue.

"The math doesn't add up and the record doesn't add up," McCain said. "We can't lay another trillion dollars of debt on the next generation. . . . It's generational theft."

Obama, meanwhile, cited newly released census bureau statistics to bolster the urgency of his cause. He said the estimates released Thursday show that the number of uninsured Americans rose to 46.3 million in 2008, up from 45.7 million in 2007, and is likely significantly worse now because of the ongoing recession.

The poverty rate, too, has risen, Obama said, and is higher than at any time since the early 1990s.

Obama plans to continue his public push for health care reform with a rally on Saturday and another speech on Tuesday. Biden said Obama is "willing to sign a bill, any bill, by whatever mechanism, that in fact guarantees that there is a choice for people that is affordable." He said he believed that a consensus on the need for reform was building on both sides of the aisle, despite continued, deep disagreements on issues from a public option for universal health coverage to medical malpractice limits.

Biden told the "Today" show that he considered Wilson's outburst-- for which Wilson quickly apologized -- "an exception to the rule," even though other Republicans in the chamber also offered catcalls and boos during the speech.

But the president's efforts have been overshadowed somewhat by the attention given to Wilson's outburst, which White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called unprecedented. Numerous media outlets continued to show video of his accusation overnight and into Thursday, and it ricocheted wildly around the blogosphere.

While comments posted to various Web sites included both support for and condemnation of Wilson's conduct, the incident appeared to offer a strong fundraising tool for Rob Miller, Wilson's Democratic opponent in the 2010 Congressional race. According to the Web site, which tracks Democratic campaigns, more than 1,500 donors gave Miller in excess of $55,000 overnight in response to specific appeals to oust the Republican who had called the president a liar.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company