President Obama Pushes for Action on Health Care

Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress came at a crucial moment in the debate over health care reform. The White House has said repeatedly in recent days that the president would get more specific in this address than he has in speeches over the last several months, raising the bar for something new that would move the debate forward after weeks of stalemate on Capitol Hill.

Obama admitted in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts that by giving Congress so much leeway in shaping the legislation, rather than sending his own bill to the Hill, he "probably left too much ambiguity out there."

That ambiguity gave the president's opponents a window of opportunity to criticize the overall push for reform and fill the void with what the president called "scare tactics" in the speech.

The result for the White House was a summer of headaches and an August recess that came without a vote on legislation.

White House: President to Define Final Leg in Health Care Debate

Administration officials called the president's address "a necessary ingredient to completing the process of health care reform" and the "biggest rhetorical arrow in his quiver."

A senior official suggested the whole debate is all going, more or less, according to plan and that the address was important for Congress to get some instruction from the commander in chief.

"He wanted to let the process run," the official said. "He wanted to have an exhaustive debate. We've had that now. Now it's time to draw the strands together and say to the American people -- and say to the Congress -- here's the plan that we should embrace and let's move forward and get it done."

The White House said it was the intention all along to give a speech to Congress during the fall, but the president is delivering it a little bit earlier than originally planned because he didn't want the discussion to devolve again.

"The best way to frame the final leg of this journey is for the president to define it," a senior administration official said.

White House Wants Quick Action From Congress

White House officials say that they expect Congress to move on the issue, starting Thursday.

"We certainly want to see Congress move. We don't think the all of it will get done tomorrow," an administration official said, adding that there's nothing new to be said within Congress.

"Now it's time to bring this to a close," an administration official said, claiming the speech would mark "the beginning of the final weeks of competing this process."

White House aides say they don't expect the plan to be a perfect mirror image of the president's speech proposals, yet they hope it will be close.

"The president has a plan," a senior administration official said. "He believes it's the right plan. He wants Congress to pass the plan. And he expects the Congress will pass the plan. Will it chapter and verse, in every particular [point], mirror exactly what he said? We'll see. We hope that's the case. Will it conform to it in its major elements? I believe that as well."

Administration officials said that the recent work in the Senate Finance Committee has been a very positive step. They attributed that, partially, to the president's address prompting movement on this issue.

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