President Obama today launched his final push to get health care legislation passed, indicating a willingness to work with Republicans on some issues but telling Democrats to use Capitol Hill's controversial "reconciliation" rules to get a bill to his desk if necessary.
While not specifically referencing the controversial "reconciliation" rules, which would allow Democrats to pass the legislation with 51 votes instead of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster and proceed to a vote, Obama said Congress owes the American people an up-or-down vote and noted that the procedure had been employed for other key issues.
"[Health care reform] deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority," the president said, citing five bills that were passed in the Senate using reconciliation rules
Republicans have been grousing for weeks about the use of reconciliation, saying it shortcuts the process and should not be used for a bill of such importance.
Obama once again dismissed calls from Republicans to scrap the current legislation and start over, arguing that too much time has already been spent on this issue and the differences between the two parties will not be resolved with another year of negotiations and debate.
"For us to start over now could simply lead to delay that could last for another decade or even more," he said. "The American people, and the U.S. economy, just can't wait that long."
After a year of debate and at times acrimonious negotiations, the clock is once again ticking on health care reform legislation. The president said that since the first meetings on the issue last March, the debate has run its course.
"Every idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made," he said. "Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just about everyone has said it."
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been waiting for direction from the president on how health care reform will proceed.
Today Obama urged them "to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks."
"From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform," he said. "And I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well – every family, every business owner, every patient, every doctor, every nurse."
The White House's outline for the path to getting a bill passed includes having the House of Representatives pass the health care reform legislation passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve, as well as a second bill containing "fixes" to that legislation.
While the endorsement of the reconciliation rules may sound like partisanship to Republicans, Obama noted that what he was proposing brings together "the best ideas from both parties," according to excerpts.
"This is where we've ended up," he said. "It's an approach that has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year."
The president indicated a willingness to work with Republicans to incorporate some of the ideas they brought to the table at last week's bipartisan health care summit.