Obama to detail health care vision

President Obama will tell Congress and the American people tonight his prescription for the nation's health care system in more detail than he ever has before.

What remains unclear is whether Obama will insist on a government-backed "public option" to compete with private insurance companies or a compromise that can attract moderate Democrats and Republicans.

The president told ABC's Good Morning America in an interview broadcast Wednesday that he wants to "make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I'm open to new ideas, that we're not being rigid and ideological about this thing, but we do intend to get something done this year."

Despite the president's optimistic view, Congressional Democrats and Republicans a few hours before the president's speech on Wednesday appeared to remain on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to the possibility of hashing out a bipartisan agreement anytime soon.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., abandoned his earlier talk expressing the need for the broad outlines of an agreement after meeting on Tuesday with the half-Republican, half-Democrat "Gang of Six." On Wednesday, Baucus said he hoped an agreement could be carved out by the end of the year, but added he plans to move forward in trying to work through a plan regardless.

"I very much hope and do expect Republicans will be on board," Baucus said Wednesday. "I don't know how many, but if there are not any, I will move forward anyway."

Congressional Republicans, meantime, were sending out a message that everyone needs to slow down on start over on a health-care overhaul plan. Some GOP members are calling for a slimmed-down version of the president's plan with a few stipulations staying in place, including one insuring that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to people with pre-existing health issues.

"Our view is: Let's scale it back, target the problems and not have the government take over, in effect, all of American health care," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday.

Democratic leaders who met with the president Tuesday came away extolling a public option as the best way to inject more choice and competition into the insurance market. "We're going to do our very best to have a public option or something like a public option before we finish this work," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will be more specific than he has been in the past about what he favors and how he wants to pay for it.

"What the president will do is ... take the strands that exist, the ideas that are out there, and try to pull many of those together, outline in some specificity a plan moving forward," he said.

Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader and Obama's initial pick for health secretary, said Wednesday there will be "no surprises" in the address, but added the president would likely offer more details about his plan.

"He'll be as specific as a president can be in 45 minutes," Daschle said.

The speech presents Obama with a series of conflicting expectations, experts say:

• He must get deeper into the nitty-gritty of five health care bills in Congress without being so specific that he confuses the millions watching on TV.

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