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Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country's Character


Updated 5:10 p.m. Eastern Time

President Obama made a last-minute push for his health care reform plan Friday in advance of Sunday's planned vote in the House, telling a supportive audience at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia that "a century-long struggle" for reform is about to "culminate in a historic vote."

The president, who appeared energetic and enthusiastic, linked passage of the health care bill to the passage of social security and civil rights legislation, arguing that the debate on the legislation is "about the character of our country."

The Hunt for Health Care Votes: Democrats to Watch

He cited past presidents who have supported reform, among them Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who he quoted as having backed "aggressive fighting" for expanded coverage.The legislation would eventually mean coverage for about 32 million people who are now uninsured, though many provisions expanding coverage do not kick in until 2014.

"I know this has been a difficult journey," he said. "I know this will be a tough vote." The president said that while he doesn't know how pushing for reform will "play politically," he does know that it's the right thing to do.

Mr. Obama added that despite rhetoric suggesting the legislation represents radical change, the bill is ultimately about "common sense reform." He said that if the bill does not pass, the insurance industry "will continue to run amok."

"They will continue to deny people coverage," he said. "They will continue to deny people care. They will continue to jack up premiums 40 or 50 or 60 percent as they have in the last few weeks without any accountability whatsoever. They know this. That's why their lobbyists are stalking the halls of Congress as we speak. And pouring millions of dollars into negative ads. That's why they are doing everything they can to kill this bill."

He continued: "So the only question left is this: Are we going to let the special interests win again? Or are we going to make this vote a victory for the American people?"

What's in Health Care Bill? Take a Dose

House Democrats have been working furiously to secure the votes to pass the bill ahead of the Sunday vote from skittish lawmakers concerned about their reelection prospects as well as issues like the cost of the $940 billion package. They added billions of dollars in insurance subsidies to the bill Thursday as well as a $250 rebate for seniors on high-cost prescription drugs.

Dems Sweeten Health Bill in Final Push

Before Mr. Obama spoke, Rep. John Boccieri, D-Ohio, announced he was switching to a "yes" vote on the bill. Reps. Bart Gordon, Dennis Kucinichand Betsy Markey have also switched to supporting the bill, while  Rep. Stephen Lynch has switched to a "no." If no Republicans support the bill, it will not pass if more than 37 Democrats oppose it.

There are now 20 Democrats who are firm nos and 47 who are undecided, according to a continuing CBS News count. The president plans to meet Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Capitol with the House Democratic Caucus.

Steny Hoyer: Health Vote Won't Cost Us in November

At George Mason, the president noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would more than pay for itself over time, reducing the deficit by $1 trillion over two decades.

"This proposal's paid for," he said, contrasting it with previous Washington "schemes" that self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives have supported. Citing rising health care costs, he added: "We can't afford not to do this."

Health Care Special Deals: What's Left In?

The president compared reporting on the bill to "Sportscenter" and "Rock'em Sock'em Robots," with cable talking heads more concerned about the political implications of action than its practical impact.

He also laid out what is contained in the package, stressing the reforms that would be instituted this year, among them:

  • Banning insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions or dropping coverage when people get sick;
  • Eliminating annual or lifetime coverage limits;
  • Requiring insurance plans to offer free preventive care to customers;
  • And extending how long young people can stay on their parents' insurance plans to age 26.

As Mr. Obama made his speech, Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, gave a press conference noting that the president is "doing the hard sell" on this bill. Boehner said voting against the bill is ultimately about "doing the right thing for the American people."

Republicans have been nearly universal in their opposition to a bill they deem a "government takeover of health care."  They have also strongly objected to a proposal by House Democrats to use a move known as "deem and pass" to combine a vote on the Senate bill with a vote on a bill making changes to it.

Some states are groups are considering lawsuits if the bill passes, and Republicans have vowed to delay and try to block the reconciliation measure in the Senate if it passes the House.

More Coverage of the Health Care Reform Debate:

The Hunt for Health Care Votes: Democrats to Watch
Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country's Character
Obama Deploys Personal Presidential Touch
Dem Health Care Bill Pegged at $940B Over 10 Years
Washington Unplugged: Nancy Cordes on the Final Countdown
Dueling News Conferences
Steny Hoyer: Health Care Vote Won't Cost Us in Nov.
Stupak Wants Separate Abortion Bill or He Won't Support Health Care Bill
Glenn Beck, Steve King: Health Care Bill Vote an Affront to God Special Report: Health Care

Details on the Bill:

What's in Health Care Bill? Take a Dose
Health Care Special Deals: What's Left In?
Read the Text (PDF): Complete Senate Bill | Reconciliation Measure

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