WASHINGTON President Barack Obama called on the U.S. Congress on Saturday to be willing to compromise on a plan to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system now that a key Senate committee has wrapped up work on its proposal.
Obama concentrated on the healthcare debate in his weekly radio and Web address at the end of a week dominated by foreign policy challenges in Iran and Afghanistan and a quick trip he made to Copenhagen in a losing effort to get the 2016 Summer Olympics for his adopted hometown, Chicago.
The Senate Finance Committee finished debate on a massive overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system on Friday and prepared to vote on the legislation next week.
The bill calls for sweeping insurance market reforms and seeks to rein in soaring medical costs and expand coverage to millions of uninsured people.
With Democrats divided and Republicans battling what they consider a government-takeover of healthcare, Obama tried to lay down some markers for the coming debate as he seeks to gain passage of a plan this year.
"I welcome any sincere attempts to improve legislation before it reaches my desk. But what I will not accept are attempts to stall, or drag our feet. I will not accept partisan efforts to block reform at any cost," he said.
The Finance bill will be melded by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid with one passed earlier this year by the Senate health panel, and the combined product is expected to hit the Senate floor by mid-October.
Whatever bill emerges from the Senate would have to be merged with legislation that comes out of the House of Representatives.
Obama's Democratic Party remains divided on key issues, including a government-run insurance option, and party leaders in Congress will face a gauntlet of competing demands from liberal and conservative Democrats.
And Republican critics of the overhaul are set on new attacks on provisions on taxes, mandates and Medicare, the healthcare plan for seniors, that could resonate with a wary public as the battle snakes its way through Congress.
Obama said he realized that lawmakers from both parties would want to engage in a vigorous debate and contribute their own ideas.
"I expect us to move forward with a spirit of civility, a seriousness of purpose, and a willingness to compromise that characterizes our democratic process at its very best. If we do that, I am confident that we will pass reform this year," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Mohammad Zargham)