President Barack Obama issued a strong plea for action on his health care agenda Saturday, using his weekly radio and Internet address
to focus on his top domestic priority even while traveling overseas.
"It's time to deliver," said Mr. Obama, in a talk timed to gatherings in living rooms and coffee shops around the country by tens of thousands of Americans organized by his campaign to talk about health care. The aim of the community gatherings beginning Saturday morning and continuing through the weekend was to build a groundswell of support for congressional action.
"If we do nothing, everyone's health care will be put in jeopardy," President Obama said.
"Fixing what's wrong with our health care system is no longer a luxury we hope to achieve - it's a necessity we cannot postpone any longer," the president said.
Mr. Obama, who's been traveling in the Middle East and Europe, spoke as the first bill containing language to implement his health care goals began circulating on Capitol Hill. Draft legislation from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's health committee would require employers to cover their employees or pay a penalty, and would guarantee coverage for all.
That parallels Mr. Obama's goals of lowering costs, ensuring choice, and providing coverage to some 50 million uninsured Americans.
President Obama articulated those goals again in his radio address and in a videotaped message that was being shown to supporters at the community meetings.
"Any health care reform must be built around fundamental reforms that lower costs, improve quality and coverage and also protect consumer choice," Mr. Obama said in the radio address.
He said that he supports a plan that would not add to the budget deficit, touching on a major issue that remains unresolved little more than a week away from the first scheduled votes in Senate committees.
Congress still hasn't figured out how to pay for a health overhaul that could cost $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion or even more over a decade. Mr. Obama has put forward some ideas, including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid - the government-sponsored programs that provide health care coverage to the elderly, poor and disabled. Others he's suggested, including limiting some tax deductions rich people can take, have already gotten shot down on Capitol Hill.
And despite Mr. Obama's stated preference for a bipartisan solution, that's looking hard to achieve.
Although he didn't mention the issue in his radio address, President Obama supports a new public insurance plan that would give all Americans the opportunity of getting government-sponsored care.
Private insurers are adamantly opposed, fearing they would be driven out of business, as are most Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered speeches on the Senate floor almost every day this past week railing against the concept, and reiterated the point in an interview with radio reporters Friday.
"The key to a bipartisan bill is to not have a government plan in the bill, no matter what it's called," the Kentucky Republican said. "When I say no government plan, I mean no government plan. Not something described some other way, not something that gets us to the same place by indirection. No government plan."
Mr. Obama barely alluded to such opposition in his radio address.
"When you bring together disparate groups with differing views, there will be lively debate. And that's a debate I welcome," the president said. "But what we can't welcome is reform that just invests more money in the status quo - reform that throws good money after bad habits."
By Associated Press Writer Erica Werner