Obama: Congress Owes America a Vote on Health Care

(CBS)
Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET with remarks from McConnell.

President Obama today sought to give health care legislation the final push it needs to get through Congress by making it clear Democrats have gone out of their way to craft a bill that should win broad support.

But regardless of whether the GOP is willing to get on board with the president's plans, he said it is time to forge ahead.

"No matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform," Mr. Obama said.

He said his proposal deserves the same up-or-down vote cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed and the Bush tax cuts – "all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority," he said.

The president was alluding to a process called reconciliation, with which Democrats can bypass a Republican filibuster with just 51 votes. Democrats said today they plan to use reconciliation, after months of Republican obstruction. Their reconciliation plan will incorporate a handful of Republican ideas put forward at last month's health care summit.

Mr. Obama said he has asked leaders in the House and the Senate to schedule a vote in the next few weeks.

"This is where we've ended up," Mr. Obama said today. "It's an approach that has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year. It incorporates the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans."

His plan, he said, includes Republican ideas like funding state grants on medical malpractice reform and curbing waste, fraud and abuse in the health care system. Mr. Obama also said his proposal gets rid of "provisions that were more about winning individual votes in Congress than improving health care for all Americans," alluding to deals such as the one Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) won for his state, exempting it from paying for Medicaid expansions.

In essence, he said, his plan comes down to reining in insurance company abuses, expanding choices for consumers and making sure insurance is affordable through tax credits that "add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history."

Obama on Health Care Reform: Full Remarks

The plan would be paid for, he said, by cutting subsidies to insurance and pharmaceutical companies, imposing a new fee on insurance companies and making the wealthiest Americans "pay their fair share of Medicare."

Mr. Obama today also sought to co-opt the language Republicans used to argue against health care reform. Conservatives charged the Democrats' plans would take control over health care decisions out of patients' hands and give it to new, larger bureaucracies. The president said he believes people should have more control over their own health care.

"The proposal I've put forward gives Americans more control over their health care by holding insurance companies more accountable," Mr. Obama said. "I can tell you that as the father of two young girls, I wouldn't want any plan that interferes with the relationship between a family and their doctor."

In spite of the president's appeals for bipartisanship, Republicans have said the president's new plan is a non-starter.

"We all appreciate the president's call for a bipartisan approach," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in response to the president's remarks. "But where we're headed through the use of reconciliation means the only thing that will be bipartisan about this proposal is the opposition to it."

The debate cannot go any farther, Mr. Obama said.

"Every idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made," he said. "So now is the time to make a decision about how to finally reform health care so that it works, not just for the insurance companies, but for America's families and businesses."

Americans, however, do not want this plan, McConnell said. Democratic leaders, he said, are "calling upon their members to ignore the wishes of the American people."

Democrats will not be able to put the issue behind them once the bill is passed, McConnell continued. Every Republican running in an election this fall will campaign on repealing this bill, he said.

"Every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue," he said. "You ignore the overwhelming desires of the American people at your own peril."

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