MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.
President Obama today launched what the White House is calling the final stage of the year-long debate over health care. The president urged lawmakers to quickly cast an up or down vote on his proposed overhaul. Democrats hope to use a procedural maneuver to bypass Republican opposition. Still, Mr. Obama argues that his proposal incorporates Republican ideas, even if it wins little or no GOP support.
NPRs Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: The president was surrounded by lab-coated doctors and nurses this afternoon as he spoke in the White House East Room. Thats the same place he kicked off the health care debate almost exactly a year ago.
President BARACK OBAMA: Since then, every idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made. Everything there is to say about health care has been said...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Pres. OBAMA: ...and just about everybody has said it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Pres. OBAMA: So now is the time to make a decision.
HORSLEY: The president has offered his own health care proposal, intended to bridge the differences between the House and Senate versions. He wants both chambers to vote on it within the next few weeks. A White House spokesman said Mr. Obama wouldnt be pursuing this path if he didnt think hed have the votes to win. But handicapper Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report says backing this measure wont be easy for vulnerable Democrats. They have to battle the view its a government takeover.
Mr. CHARLIE COOK (Cook Political Report): A pejorative label has been stuck on this bill, correctly or incorrectly. And it just drags it down.
HORSLEY: The success of that labeling is striking. The president called it a middle of the road compromise, neither the government run single payer plan favored by some on the left, nor the unfettered free-for-all championed by others on the right. His proposal is liberal in its goal of providing insurance to virtually all Americans but it would pursue that goal using market mechanisms. Under pressure from Republicans and conservative Democrats, Mr. Obama dropped the so-called public insurance option in favor of competitive exchanges, an idea he defended last week.
Pres. OBAMA: The idea of an exchange is not a government takeover. It is how the market works, which is if you have a lot of purchasing power you get a better deal. Thats how Wal-Mart drives its prices down.
HORSLEY: The presidents plan for financing also seeks some middle course. Instead of taxing the rich, as the House bill would do, Mr. Obama would tax high priced insurance policies, most to the chagrin of organized labor. His plan would also squeeze savings out of Medicare and health care providers. But none of these concessions has brought any Republican support, despite months of negotiation. Neither did his offer yesterday to incorporate his version of Republican ideas, such as state experiments with malpractice reform. House Republican leader John Boehner complained you cant add a couple of Republican sprinkles on top of a 2700-page bill and claim thats bipartisan.
So, Mr. Obama said its time for Democrats to go it alone, using the same simple majority Republicans used to pass Welfare reform in 1996 and the tax cuts of George W. Bush.
Pres. OBAMA: I do not know how this plays politically but I know its right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work and I look forward to signing this reform into law.
(Soundbite of applause)
HORSLEY: Members of Congress likely will consider the political consequences. Charlie Cook says for Democrats its a no-win situation.
Mr. COOK: They could just quit but that would be declaring the last year a loss and make him look incompetent or they could push something through that voters at least say and think they dont want and hope that they could finally start winning the messaging battle.
HORSLEY: The president promised to do everything in his power to make the case for reform, starting with rallies next week in Philadelphia and St. Louis.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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