By Sam Youngman - 09/02/09 08:56 PM EDT
President Barack Obama will address Congress next Wednesday, hoping to get his healthcare agenda back on track.
The move to give a speech to a joint session is the latest sign that Obama is looking to reassert his role in steering the debate, after a summer in which Republicans and angry voters attending town hall meetings dominated the news cycle.
The address is Obama’s second since taking office and comes as the administration is losing patience with attempts to wina bipartisan bill. Negotiations between Republican and Democratic senators on the Finance Committee have gone on for months without a deal. Those talks are not expected to conclude by mid-September, as some had hoped.
Obama will host Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the White House Tuesday, a day before the address, where they are expected to discuss the fall agenda, according to a House aide. Republican leaders were not invited, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a statement said the move "could well be a game changer" and that the president was pulling out all the stops.
“The President is clearly not running away from this battle, but rather confronting the challenges we’ve encountered these last few weeks head-on," Schumer said. "There is no better way to turn public opinion around than to have someone as popular as President Obama addressing the American people directly, without intermediaries interpreting – or misinterpreting – his ideas.”
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, told ABCNews Wednesday that the healthcare debate is in the "ninth inning," and Obama can "close" the deal on the issue.
"The president has a big megaphone, and he intends to use that megaphone in these final weeks to, to really make clear to the American people what, what's on the table and how it might help them," Axelrod said.
Paul Light, a professor at New York University and an expert on the presidency, said the White House has wasted too much time railing against the status quo without giving Americans any sense of what Obama wants in the legislation.
The absence of a defined set of requirements and disqualifications has created "nothing but confusion out there about the issue," Light said.
"It can't just be the absence of the current system, which has been his main argument to date," Light said. "He needs to provide a compelling portrait of just what kind of world he wants to create with his healthcare package."
Some members of Congress and analysts have said since spring that the president has failed to lead the debate and that he should have taken a more prominent role in drafting a proposal.
His lower profile, along with the failure of centrists on the Senate Finance Committee to reach a deal, has allowed liberals in the House and Senate to advance legislation that has drawn sharp criticism from Republicans, centrist Democrats and angry voters at town hall meetings.
House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office responded to the news of Obama's joint address with skepticism Wednesday.
"Obviously, we want to hear what the president has to say, but the American people don't want a new speech, they want a new plan," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. "We need to scrap the Democrats' government takeover of health care and start over on a real, bipartisan plan for reform."
To that end, Light said Obama will have to swing for the fences with a definitive list of what he will sign and what he will not. But even that might not be enough this late in the legislative calendar, Light said.
"It could be too late," Light said. "They've lost a lot of time, there's no doubt about it. This should have been done maybe in May, maybe even earlier, and then it should have been done again.
"I don't think it's a Hail Mary pass, but I think it's a 30 yards and a big cloud of dirt," Light said. "It better be something special, and he better get the thing back on track. Otherwise, the thing won't happen."
This story was updated at 6:56 p.m.