After a bitter year-long debate, US President Barack Obama pushed Congress Wednesday to pass his historic health care overhaul by a party-line vote, if needed.
"I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform. We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for the past year, but for decades," he said. "Let's get it done."
AdvertisementObama, bruised by a year of political warfare over his top domestic goal, bluntly rejected Republican demands to scrap the ambitious plan and start over and endorsed passing the plan with "nothing more than a simple majority."
"Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just about everybody has said it," he said, surrounded in the White House's formal East Room by doctors and nurses in white hospital garb.
Democratic congressional aides have said they hope to pass a final bill before the start of a two-week Easter recess at the end of the day on March 26, enabling lawmakers to focus more on the sour US jobs picture in the months ahead of November mid-term elections to decide control of Congress.
Obama said it was time for Congress to "finish its work" and set a final vote "in the next few weeks" on the controversial legislation, which faces deep doubts among independent voters who stand to decide key contests.
Acknowledging Democratic nerves about the possible impact on the elections, Obama declared "we can't just give up because the politics are hard" and said the fight was "about what kind of country we want to be."
"I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it's right," said Obama, who has wagered the fate of his still-young presidency on what would be the most far-reaching overhaul of its kind in some 45 years.
Obama's remarks came after he hosted an unusual day-long health care "summit" with key Republicans last week, and held out an 11th-hour olive branch to his critics in a letter offering to include four of their main ideas.
The blueprint still faces an uphill road, with Republicans united against it, and Democrats struggling to rally fragile majorities amid lingering internal feuds over abortion funding and immigrant access to health care.
"The only thing that will be bipartisan about this proposal is the opposition to it," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who warned his side could throw up "plenty" of roadblocks.
Democrats led the Senate and House of Representatives to pass rival versions of the overhaul in 2009, and were on the road to melding them into a compromise bill when the party lost its 60-vote Senate supermajority in a shock January election that boosted Republicans to 41 seats in the 100-member Senate.
With Republicans suddenly empowered to stall the legislation indefinitely, the president's allies were expected to rely on an infrequently used parliamentary tactic called "reconciliation" that requires a simple majority.
The precise sequence was unclear, but one scenario had the House first passing the bill approved last year by the Senate, which would subsequently use "reconciliation" to approve "fixes" reflecting the derailed compromise plan.
Republicans have loudly complained about that strategy, despite having used it more than Democrats in recent history, notably for health bills and to pass trillion-dollar tax cuts under the previous president, George W. Bush.
The approach has pitfalls: The method is reserved for measures that directly impact government revenues and outlays, and could open the door to a wave of Republican amendments aimed at burying the bill.
But Obama predicted victory, saying: "I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law."