Fri, Mar 05, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Obama wants final health vote

‘CALL TO ACTION’The US president rejected a Republican call to restart negotiations on healthcare and instead will use a muscle tactic called ‘reconciliation’ to bring a vote

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US President Barack Obama began a final push for healthcare reform on Wednesday, urging Congress to vote on the plan in the next few weeks even if it means passing the measure with a narrow Democratic majority and no Republican support.

Although much uncertainty remains on the path to passage of the legislation, Obama opposed Republican calls to throw out broad bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate last year and begin again with a more step-by-step approach.

“For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for another decade or even more,” Obama said.

Americans are waiting for the administration to lead, Obama said in remarks at the White House backing a muscle tactic known as “reconciliation” as a way of overcoming rock-solid Republican opposition.

Republicans dismissed Obama’s comments and said Democrats risked paying a price in mid-term congressional elections in November.

“Every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

Wall Street shrugged off Obama’s statement.

“It doesn’t really seem like there’s any change here. Basically, what it was was a call to action,” said Steve Shubitz, a healthcare analyst at Edward Jones. “There really wasn’t much new in there, meaning nothing incrementally more damaging to the health insurance companies.”

“My opinion is it’s still just political maneuvering on healthcare ... I’d be surprised if anything does get done,” said Wayne Schmidt of Minnesota-based Gradient Investments.

The Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor index of health insurer stocks was up about 1 percent on Wednesday.

“Now is the time to make a decision about how to finally ­reform health care so that it works, not just for the insurance companies, but for America’s families and businesses,” Obama said in his speech.

He said his plan included ideas from both his fellow Democrats and rival Republicans, who staunchly oppose the idea of a large-scale overhaul of the US$2.5 trillion healthcare industry, which accounts for one-sixth of the US economy. Republicans say such a plan is too expensive for a government running huge budget deficits.

Obama renewed his effort to win Republican backing with a healthcare summit last week and a letter on Tuesday outlining some of their ideas he was willing to adopt. Obama said he was open to Republican ideas such as probing healthcare providers who get federal money and offering more grants to study alternatives to medical malpractice suits.

With those efforts, he can say he gave bipartisanship another chance, even as Democrats seek to bypass Republicans.

“Given these honest and substantial differences between the parties ... I do not see how another year of negotiations would help,” Obama said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama will push hard.

“Whatever it takes to get healthcare done,” he said.

Obama is due to travel to Philadelphia and St Louis next week to make his case for the overhaul.

Democrats have been preparing to pass a final measure in the Senate without opposition support through reconciliation, which requires only simple majority approval instead of the usual 60 votes that are needed in the 100-member chamber to overcome procedural hurdles. The Democrats lost their “supermajority” with the loss of a Senate seat in a special election in January.

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