Obama Rallies: 'We Have Waited Long Enough'

President Barack Obama packed the Patriot Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Friday for one more health care rally. Speaking to students in a swing state, Obama hoped to put a bit of his campaign magic on the legislative drive to overhaul the nation's health care system.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Health care overhaul hangs in the balance this weekend. President Obama goes to Capitol Hill this afternoon to meet with House Democrats on the eve of tomorrow's vote. Democrats are attempting to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, despite unified opposition from congressional Republicans. Coming up, we'll talk to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to ask him bluntly if they have the votes.

First, at a rally in northern Virginia yesterday, Mr. Obama suggested that overhaul will be more popular once the political arm-twisting is over. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama told supporters at George Mason University in Virginia tomorrow's health care vote is the capstone of a debate that's consumed not just the last year in Washington but much of the last century, beginning with the Republican president who first called for universal health care coverage, Teddy Roosevelt.

President BARACK OBAMA: The time for reform is now. We have waited long enough.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Pres. OBAMA: We have waited long enough. And in just a few days, a century-long struggle will culminate in an historic vote.

HORSLEY: The president characterized the health care plan being pushed by Democrats as the successor to a long line of bold government initiatives, from civil rights to Social Security, that are widely embraced today but which were just as controversial when initially proposed.

Pres. OBAMA: There were cynics that warned that Medicare would lead to a government takeover of our entire health care system, and that it didn't have much support in the polls, but Democrats and Republicans refused to back down, and they made sure that our seniors had the health care that they needed, could have some basic peace of mind.

HORSLEY: Nancy Dare(ph) is one of those seniors on Medicare - and grateful for it. She came to the rally because she says Americans under the age of 65 also deserve guaranteed health care coverage.

Ms. NANCY DARE: I have a friend who just had a back operation. She's in her 40s. And her insurance company is going to pay $6,000 on a $20,000 operation. I'm here because of all the people who have no way to get insurance.

HORSLEY: Dare says she's confident the House will approve the health care bill tomorrow, even though she admits it's not perfect.

Ms. DARE: I'm very positive. I don't think we're going to get everything that we want, but if we get some things, it'll be a blessing for everyone.

HORSLEY: Outside the rally, Heather West waved a protest sign and pushed a stroller with her daughter Claire. The stay-at-home mom says she's satisfied with the insurance she gets through her husband's work, and she doesn't want to take a chance on what she calls a social experiment. But even West seemed resigned to a House vote in favor of the health care measure.

Ms. HEATHER WEST: They're going to slam it down our throats. Obama's presidency rests on this, so he'll do whatever it takes, legal or illegal. He'll do it, and I don't want it. I am so mad. I can't tell you, I can't sleep at night, I'm so mad. Aren't I, Claire?

HORSLEY: President Obama says the nation cannot afford not to make changes in its costly health care system. He argued once Americans get used to those changes, the year-long battle leading up this vote will be forgotten.

Pres. OBAMA: As messy as this process is, as frustrating as this process is, as ugly as this process can be, when we have faced such decisions in our past, this nation, time and time again, has chosen to extend its promise to more of its people.

HORSLEY: Of course the lawmakers Mr. Obama's hoping to persuade this afternoon don't have the luxury of that long historical perspective - they'll have to face voters in November.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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