Obama: 'Congress owes the American people a final vote on healthcare'

President Barack Obama launched the endgame on healthcare Wednesday, urging Congress to “finish its work.”

Obama said he believes Congress owes the American people a final up-or-down vote on healthcare reform, but did not use the word reconciliation.

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Instead, the president pointed to past examples of landmark and costly legislation that had been approved through the use of the rules, which prevent a filibuster from being used against budget-related measures in the Senate.

He also said he didn't see how more negotiations would help resolve continued differences between Republicans and Democrats "given the honest and substantial differences between the parties."

No matter which approach is favored, he said, "I believe the U.S. Congress owes the American people a final vote on healthcare reform.

"Reform has already passed the House with a majority; it has already passed the Senate with a supermajority with 60 votes," Obama continued. "And now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare programs, that was used on the Children's Health Insurance Program ... and the Bush tax cuts, all of which passed Congress with a simple majority."

Republicans have warned Democrats they will lose control of Congress if they push healthcare reform through with the use of reconciliation rules.

Obama described healthcare reform as a test of whether the political system is capable of tackling the nation's biggest issues.

“At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem. The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future,” Obama said at the White House.

Obama acknowledged that the yearlong quest for healthcare reform has bruised him and the Democrats who control Congress. “I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law,” he said.

“Now is the time to make a decision,” said Obama, who was flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and a group of medical professionals.

 “Now is the time to make a decision,” said Obama, who was flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and a group of medical professionals.
 
Republicans seem pretty certain about how they think it will play with voters: “This is politically toxic in the extreme,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “What we know about the healthcare bill is that the people don’t want it passed. It’s overwhelmingly unpopular.”
 
“I assure you that if this bill is somehow passed it won’t be behind our Democratic friends it’ll be ahead of them because every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue and there’s an overwhelming likelihood that every Republican candidate will be campaigning to repeal it,” McConnell said.

There was little new in Obama’s remarks.

Since Democrats lost the 60th vote they need to overcome Republican filibusters in the Senate with the victory of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in a special election this month, they have been aligning behind a plan under which the House will take up the Senate-passed healthcare reform bill and both chambers will vote on a package of “fixes” to that measure via budget reconciliation rules, which allow legislation to pass the Senate on a simple majority vote.

Moving the legislation will take a full-court press from Obama and congressional Democratic leaders to assemble winning coalitions in Congress without any Republican support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) faces a considerable challenge in getting 216 votes for both measures and must turn opponents of the original House bill into supporters of the final package.

Backing Pelosi's remark Tuesday that Democrats “are right now freezing the language on the legislation,” Obama declared, “This is our proposal. This is where we’ve ended up. It’s an approach that has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year.”

Congress will use Obama’s compromise plan, unveiled last month and issued in a modified form on Tuesday, which incorporates new provisions added after the bipartisan summit he hosted at Blair House last week.

Obama also highlighted the handful of Republican proposals included in his plan, and alluded to the fact that he has proposed scrapping provisions from the Senate-passed bill that roused controversy, such as special treatment of Medicaid in Nebraska and of Medicare Advantage in Florida, that were added to the measure at the behest, respectively, of Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) during consideration.


Gibbs said Obama has made it clear that he has tried to include Republicans' ideas in the legislation, and the onus is now on them to explain why they are unable to vote for their own proposals. “The president has tried day after day to do that,” Gibbs said. “Republicans will have to answer why day after day they can't take 'yes' for an answer.”

Gibbs described the president's mindset as “focused,” saying that he is certain he can sign a bill within the next few weeks.

The White House is planning a series of events designed to highlight "the support that is out there" for healthcare reform, including an out-of-town event on Monday. Gibbs did not elaborate what those events might include.

When asked when Obama wanted the legislation to be finished and on Obama's desk to sign, Gibbs joked: “Last year.”

But Gibbs added that the goal of the president's proposal is to remove the “pot-sweetening” that has gone into deals like the Nebraska and Florida arrangements.

He added, with a laugh: “We are not going to threaten members.”