Obama: Healthcare reform can't wait a generation

WASHINGTON Sat Feb 27, 2010 6:05am EST

1 of 8. President Obama is pictured as he holds a bipartisan meeting to discuss health reform legislation with lawmakers at Blair House in Washington, February 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought on Saturday to spark momentum for a final push to revive his stalled healthcare overhaul, insisting that Americans "cannot wait another generation for us to act."

Two days after a healthcare summit that produced no Republican converts, Obama used his weekly radio address to try to rally public support for a Democratic bid to press ahead with reform legislation, with or without bipartisan agreement.

The White House said Obama would announce a decision next week on "the way forward" on healthcare, signaling his patience is running thin with Republicans who have demanded he scrap his year-old approach and start over.

Facing limited options, Obama's aides and fellow Democrats are focusing on prospects for resorting to a parliamentary tactic called reconciliation that would bypass the need for Republican support and allow approval by a simple majority vote in the Democratic-led Congress.

With Republicans condemning any such move, it would be a politically risky maneuver in a congressional election year when polls show many Americans skeptical of Obama's efforts to revamp the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry.

"I am eager and willing to move forward with members of both parties on health care if the other side is serious about coming together to resolve our differences and get this done," Obama said. "But I also believe that we cannot lose the opportunity to meet this challenge."

"The tens of millions of men and women who cannot afford their health insurance cannot wait another generation for us to act," he said.

READY TO FORGE AHEAD

Democrats in the Senate and House approved healthcare bills last year that would reshape the troubled U.S. system by cutting costs, regulating insurers and expanding coverage to many uninsured people.

But efforts to merge the different measures and send a final version to Obama collapsed in January after Democrats lost their crucial 60th Senate vote in a special election in Massachusetts.

Democrats could be ready to forge ahead with the overhaul through the reconciliation process after evaluating the prospects of passing either a scaled-back version that could attract Republicans or breaking up the overhaul into pieces.

Insisting he remains open to Republican ideas and appealing for a spirit of bipartisan compromise, Obama said he heard "many areas of agreement" at Thursday's televised summit, citing the need to tackle the rising costs of healthcare.

But he also acknowledged key differences, such as whether insurers should be held accountable for denying care or arbitrarily raising premiums and over whether tax credits should go to small businesses to make healthcare affordable.

"Some of these disagreements we may be able to resolve. Some we may not," Obama said. "It is time for us to come together. It is time for us to act."

Reiterating one of his main themes from the summit, Obama urged lawmakers to "move past the bickering and the game-playing that holds us back."

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said after Thursday's summit that he was discouraged by the outcome and thought it was clear Democrats planned to ram through a version of the Senate-passed healthcare plan.

Republicans -- who say Obama's healthcare overhaul would be too costly and involve too much government intrusion -- insist the reconciliation process should not be used for something as far-reaching as reshaping national healthcare policy.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)