WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday made what is expected to be his final push to overhaul the U.S. health care system, revising his plans in an attempt to win the support of moderate Democrats.
Obama’s latest proposal included some ideas favoured by Republicans, though he has little hope of winning over even a single Republican lawmaker. Republicans have called on him to discard his proposals and start working with them on a new one.
But the White House hopes that by including elements of Republican plans, Obama can win over Democratic lawmakers from conservative districts whose re-election hopes in November could be jeopardized by voting for the bill. If he can generate stronger Democratic support, he can use parliamentary manoeuvrs to bypass Republican objections.
“I don’t see how another year of negotiations would help. Moreover, the insurance companies aren’t starting over,” Obama said, rejecting Republican calls to begin anew.
The president endorsed a plan by Democrats to try and enact the legislation by majority vote — using a Senate procedure that would deny Republicans the right to procedural delays.
Obama’s appeal came several days after he convened a televised bipartisan summit with lawmakers, then released a revised plan that he said incorporated several Republican suggestions.
At its core, Obama’s proposal would extend health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while cracking down on insurance company practices such as denying coverage on the basis of a pre-existing medical condition. The United States is the only major industrialized country without universal health care.
Obama and congressional Democrats are working to mount a party-line rescue mission for the health care legislation that appeared on the cusp of passage late last year, only to be derailed when Republicans won a Massachusetts Senate seat that gave them the ability to stop it.
Democrats still hold a majority in the 100-seat Senate, but they are one seat shy of the 60 needed to stop Republican filibusters, delaying tactics meant to stall legislation.
There is still no certainty about the outcome — or even that Democrats will agree to the series of changes that Obama said represented Republican contributions.
Whatever the final outcome, the issue is certain to reverberate in this year’s congressional elections, a fact that both Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell referred to.
“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,” the president said in the excerpts.
McConnell said that a decision by Democrats to invoke rules that bar delaying tactics would be “met with outrage” by voters, and he said Obama was pushing a sweeping bill that the public doesn’t want.
The Democrats’ strategy includes several steps. The House would be required to pass the legislation the Senate passed late last year, and then both houses would be called on to enact a companion bill making changes in the first one.
Obama has already made the basics of his plan clear. He would extend health coverage to about 30 million uninsured Americans, leash the insurance industry by banning practices like denying coverage for the ill, expand drug benefits for the elderly and give lower-income people subsidies to help them afford coverage. It would be paid for by raising taxes on upper-income Americans and culling savings from a government health care plan for the elderly.
Obama rejected calls for more debate, saying that in the year since he inaugurated his campaign for health care changes.
“Everything there is to say about health care has been said, and just about everyone has said it,” Obama said as murmurs of laughter swept through his receptive audience of invited guests in the White House.