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September 10, 2009

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Obama prepares new pitch to sell Americans on health care

UNITED States President Barack Obama is to tell the nation in a prime-time address precisely how he wants to expand health care, pitching a fresh argument - but, to liberal disappointment, no demand - for a government-run insurance option.

"The president's going to speak clearly and directly to the American people about what's in this bill for them," press secretary Robert Gibbs said, before Obama appeared before a rare joint session of Congress and a live television audience yesterday.

Opening a final push for his top domestic priority, Obama will push for a health care overhaul that provides new and crucial protections for people who already have insurance, affordable access to coverage to those without, and reduced spending for families, businesses and government.

"We do intend to get something done this year," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Even as the president prepared to speak the leader of the influential Senate Finance Committee raced to broker an overhaul proposal with both Democratic and Republican input.

And Republicans pressed their case that Obama's sweeping approach won't wash.

"The status quo is unacceptable. But if August showed us anything, it's that so are the alternatives that the administration and Democrats in Congress have proposed," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in prepared remarks. "That means sensible, step-by-step reforms, not more trillion-dollar grand schemes."

Discussing Obama's thinking on what is sure to be one of the most closely watched portions of the address, a senior administration official said the president will make a case for why he still believes a public insurance plan is the best way to introduce greater competition into the system.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Obama told her and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during a White House meeting on Tuesday that his message to critics of such an option would essentially be: "If you have a better idea, put it on the table."

But the White House official, who discussed the speech on grounds of anonymity, also said Obama would not insist that such an option be included in any final package or signal willingness to use his veto over the divisive issue.

"I'm open to new ideas," the president said. "We're not being rigid and ideological about this thing."

That stance is sure to be seen as too timid by the liberal base of Obama's Democratic Party, which is increasingly invested in and fighting for a government insurance option. Liberal lawmakers say they won't vote for legislation that doesn't include a public plan.


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