Obama to Push Healthcare Overhaul Into Final Act
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will usher in the last act of his push to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system on Wednesday by arguing that his retooled plan, incorporating more ideas from rival Republicans, is essential for the good of the country.
After a year of debate, compromise, raucous public meetings, major speeches and even a seven-hour "summit" last week with Republican leaders, Obama is due to make a statement at the White House urging Congress to move swiftly toward a vote on legislation.
"He will reiterate why reform is so crucial and what it will mean for American families and businesses: they will have more control over their own healthcare, they will see lower costs, and they will see an end to insurance company abuses," the White House said.
The political stakes are enormous for Obama, whose approval ratings have dropped during the healthcare fight in the face of unified Republican opposition to his plan for sweeping reform.
Republicans contend the public does not want the massive plan, which they say is too expensive with the government running huge budget deficits. They want Obama to scrap the bills approved last year by the House of Representatives and the Senate and start over with an incremental approach.
Obama opposes that idea and will spell out his plans for forging ahead with the overhaul plan. With more than one third of the Senate and every seat in the House up for grabs in November elections, Democrats are eager to move past healthcare and focus on job creation and the economy.
Democrats have worked to line up enough votes for passage in the House. In the Senate, they prepared to use a procedure called reconciliation that allows approval by a simple majority vote to get the measure through.
On Tuesday, Obama cited Republican ideas to probe healthcare providers who receive federal funds, expand health savings accounts, offer more grants to study alternatives to medical malpractice suits and boost doctor reimbursements for Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor.
"I said throughout this process that I'd continue to draw on the best ideas from both parties, and I'm open to these proposals in that spirit," Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders from both parties.
Investors seemed to shrug off the latest movements on the healthcare legislation. The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index of health insurer stocks were up about 1 percent on Tuesday.
Some observers praised Obama's tactic.
"It shows the president is serious about reaching across the aisle and working with whoever has good ideas," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "The $64,000 question now is whether Republicans are serious about working with him."
But Republicans cast doubt on Obama's willingness to work with them.
"If the president simply adds a couple of Republican solutions to a trillion dollar healthcare package that the American people don't support, it isn't bipartisanship -- it's political cover," said Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House.
Nonetheless, Obama will play a major role in the process after Wednesday. "He will be very involved in whatever happens next," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
"If the Republicans have read the political environment to be that what the American people want is more obstruction and more game-playing, then I would say more power to you," Gibbs said."
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Donna Smith and John Whitesides; editing by Chris Wilson)