Obama: Health Bill About Nation's Character, Not Cost

President Obama speaks Friday about health care at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. i i

hide captionPresident Obama speaks Friday about health care at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama speaks Friday about health care at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

President Obama speaks Friday about health care at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Charles Dharapak/AP

President Obama held a big rally Friday just outside Washington, hoping to persuade the last few wavering lawmakers he needs to vote "yes" on the overhaul bill, with a historic House vote just days away.

"I know this has been a difficult journey. I know this will be a tough vote," Obama told thousands of supporters inside a college basketball arena in Fairfax, Va. "I know that everybody's counting votes right now in Washington."

Obama complained that many of the political media have covered the health care debate as if it were a sporting event. But he quoted from one his most sporting predecessors, Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords."

Obama and leading Democrats in Congress have fought aggressively to pass their version of a health care bill, using both persuasion and procedure in an effort to overcome stiff Republican opposition. Democrats' procedural moves have angered some opponents of the health care plan.

Opposition To Plan

"I think the Democrat majority will do anything to get it passed," Gina Ryan of Great Falls, Va., complained. "So I think that they're going to drag it across the finish line, however ugly it may be."

Ryan, who joined other protesters outside the arena, warned that the country can't afford to extend health insurance to an additional 30 million people. She said she is angered by the bill's requirement that virtually everyone buy insurance.

"My husband is in the Navy. So we're in sort of a socialized medicine setting right now. And I wait a long time to get specialty care," she said. "I think that's what's coming to this country if we let this thing go through."

Inside the arena, Obama sought to dispel what he called "crazy" objections to the bill: that it's a government takeover of health care, or that bureaucrats would "kill Granny." Many of those objections are still being leveled by opponents. But Obama insisted what he is talking about is "common-sense reform."

He acknowledged that extending health care coverage to virtually all Americans would cost money — an estimated $940 billion over the next decade. But he said the bill includes sources of money to pay for that coverage. Obama also touted a finding by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the measure would actually cut the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades.

"Unlike some of these previous schemes in Washington, we're not taking out the credit card in your name, young people, and charging it to you," he said. "We're making sure this thing is paid for."

Obama argued that the health care debate is not just about costs but also about the character of the country.

Optimism On Measure

Retiree Jackie Thornbrough, who came to the rally from Herndon, Va., agreed.

"In the United States, people ought to be guaranteed they can have insurance," she said. "And they can get the health care they need. People shouldn't be going without."

After a year of watching the health care battle, through ups and downs, missed deadlines and near-fatal setbacks, Thornbrough is cautiously optimistic that a final "yes" vote is at hand.

"I'm hopeful," she said. "I think that President Obama can do that. He'll be able to convince them enough, and it has to happen."

After urging his followers to keep talking to their friends and neighbors about health care, Obama headed back over the river to Washington, to do some final lobbying of his own. He'll meet with Democratic members of Congress at the White House on Saturday.

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