Fri, Aug 21, 2009 - Page 7 News List

President calls healthcare plan ‘a moral obligation’

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama sought on Wednesday to reframe the healthcare debate as “a core ethical and moral obligation,” imploring a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan to lower costs and expand insurance coverage for all Americans.

“I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate, and there are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” Obama told a multidenominational group of pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders who support his goal to remake the nation’s healthcare system.

As the president re-engaged in the healthcare debate after two days of silence, the administration encouraged Republicans to take part in the negotiations. Still, Democratic leaders moved ahead with plans to advance the measure with or without Republican cooperation next month.

The White House acknowledged that its handling of the debate had been inconsistent, with Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, saying: “I don’t think anybody here believes we’ve pitched a no-hit game or a perfect game.”

Obama did not wade into the uproar among Democrats over whether the bill would have a public insurance component — a key point of contention — but rather tried to correct what he said were untruths about the plan.

“You’ve heard that there’s a government takeover of healthcare. That’s not true,” said Obama, who went on to call other assertions, like a death panel for the elderly, “an extraordinary lie.”

The members of Congress involved in bipartisan healthcare talks said they remained determined to try to reach agreement, with Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, saying that “bipartisan progress continues” even though lawmakers were scattered for recess.

The six negotiators were scheduled to consult via conference call yesterday although plans for them to meet in person over the break have evidently been put on hold.

Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the panel, said in a statement that no healthcare plan had yet found the kind of broad support he thought was necessary to move ahead.

“That doesn’t mean we should quit,” Grassley said.

Highly critical statements by Grassley of Democratic healthcare proposals — coupled with near blanket rejection by other Republicans — led top Democrats to suspect that no Republicans would be willing to vote for a healthcare plan.

A spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said the leadership had not reached a decision that Democrats should try to force through a health plan on their own.

The spokesman, Jim Manley, said Democrats would prefer to proceed on a bipartisan basis. But the Finance Committee has an informal Sept. 15 deadline for reaching a deal, and Manley indicated that Democrats would not wait indefinitely.

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