During President Obama's lengthy first State of the Union address, jobs and the economy took center stage, but the president did urge Congress not to give up on health care reform.
"Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform," the president said Wednesday night in his address to the nation, delivered on the House floor.
"Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people," he said, to a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans.
He did not, however, offer a blueprint for how to move forward with health care reform after momentum to pass a final bill has sputtered and stalled in Congress.
The pleading was a far cry from what many Democrats once expected to hear from the president on health care during his first State of the Union address.
But last week's election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate significantly altered the trajectory of health care reform. Now Democrats are regrouping, working on a strategy to pass health care reform without a 60-vote majority in the Senate and denying there is any timeline to meld the health care reform measures passed by the Senate and the House.
The president focused the bulk of his speech on new incentives to spur the economy and to create jobs, which he said will be the "number one focus in 2010." He used his economic message to illustrate the importance of passing health care reform and said if health care reform isn't enacted, the national deficit will grow and health insurance premiums will increase.
Noting that the heated fervor of Democrats to pass reform -- and the equally heated insistence of Republicans to stop it -- has simmered down, Obama said "as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed."
"There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo."
Obama admitted that, as the debate has dragged on, the public's perception of health care reform has soured.
"I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people," he said.
When asked about the president taking the blame for sending unclear messages about health care reform, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said, "Leaders often take more of the blame and less of the credit."
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she's glad the president is sending the message for Congress to push ahead on reform, but she agreed that there was a "failure of communication." She said Americans might be less afraid of reform if Congress passes smaller portions of health care legislation rather than one, sweeping bill.
During his speech, Obama challenged members of Congress to bring up an alternative.
"If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know."
To that, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) resolutely raised his hand, suggesting that the administration listen to GOP ideas for health care reform.
One Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), MD, called the president's health care message "wrong."
"It's not reform," he said. "You can't explain what they did that way."