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September 11, 2009

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Obama tells Congress to stop feuding, pass health care bill

PRESIDENT Barack Obama demanded that Congress end its bickering about a health care overhaul, implored Republicans to bring him their good ideas but warned he would not "waste time" with those who put politics ahead of the needs of the American people.

In a sweeping defense of changing a system that he and others contend could bankrupt the world's largest economy, the president told a nationally broadcast joint session of Congress on Wednesday night that a nasty political summer was over and "now is the season for action."

Obama was fighting not only for a signature domestic policy campaign promise but battling, too, to win back flagging public support for revamping a system that has left millions of Americans without health insurance, drives thousands into bankruptcy each day and consumes nearly 20 percent of the country's economy.

The United States is the only developed country without a universal program of health care coverage. As many as 50 million Americans lack insurance. While many are unhappy with the health care system, attempts to change it are politically explosive.

Bipartisan consensus

Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden said he expected a health care bill to be done by the Thanksgiving holiday in late November because Obama has "re-centered debate" and there's bipartisan consensus for change despite the fight over a government-run option.

"I think the most important thing he did, he also debunked a lot of the myths out there, the idea of death panels, that we were going to insure undocumented aliens," Biden said.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, also interviewed yesterday morning, said he agreed that something needs to be done about health care. But he also said that if the administration wants to see legislation realized, it must reach out more aggressively to minority Republicans.

"We need to do it, but it has to be bipartisan. We can't lay another trillion dollars of debt on the next generation. It's generational theft," he said.

Through a summer of angry debate, Obama also witnessed a sharp decline in his once-soaring popularity.

The speech was a political tour de force. To the public, he offered assurances that his plan would provide more security and more health care choices, while offering coverage to people who cannot now afford it.

To Republicans, he offered a hand to work together and pledged not to raise the government's deficit. For Democrats, who want him to be more assertive, he lashed out at opponents, accusing them of employing scare tactics and lies to bring down the plan - and his presidency.

It is unclear if Obama persuaded any Republicans. In keeping with tradition, most sat silently or offered polite applause during the speech.

But in an unusual outburst, one Republican congressman, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted out "You lie" when the president said illegal immigrants would not benefit from his proposals. The president paused briefly and smiled. Wilson later apologized for his "lack of civility."


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