After a month in which opponents of the president's plan grabbed attention with demonstrations at lawmakers' town hall meetings, supporters, would-be supporters and even some skeptics of the White House effort agreed that President Obama's appearance before Congress was a critical opportunity to refocus the debate.
"It's time for a grownup speech on health care. We've had all the tantrums we need," said Carl Camden, president of Kelly Services, the global temping agency that provides employment for about 650,000 workers.
Camden said before the speech that he wanted changes to make the nation's businesses more competitive in the global market. "I see companies choosing to move jobs out of the United States because of health care costs," he said.
After the speech, Rep. Charles Boustany, a cardiovascular surgeon, delivered the Republican Party's response. "It's clear the American people want health care reform," he said.
The Louisiana Republican said his party's focus is on how to "lower the cost of health care for most Americans" and argued that the plan backed by House Democrats will do just the opposite. It "creates 53 new government bureaucracies," Boustany said.
Bob Dole, a former Republican presidential candidate and Senate leader, said members of his party should be cautious in their response to the president's "very, very important speech." Though adamant opposition might be an effective political strategy short term, it ultimately could backfire, Dole said: "After a while, people are going to start to wonder, what are Republicans for?"
Camden and Dole participated in a health care roundtable sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, hours before Obama's speech. Several other participants who have been key allies of the White House health care effort said the president should urge Congress to stop debating and begin voting on a plan.
"America is ready to make some choices," said Andy Stern, president of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said legislation should go to the floor of the House and Senate by next month. "Patience is wearing thin," he said.
Obama's offer to back an effort to limit malpractice verdicts against physicians may have been devised as a carrot to attract Republicans to his side, and it could also attract support from another key constituency, says William O'Neill, dean of clinical affairs at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. "It could make doctors stand up and take notice," he said. "If the administration could get physicians enthused, then they would enthuse their patients."
Even Obama's harshest critics welcomed his decision to make his case on Capitol Hill. "I want to hear the president out," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. He said he favors change — as long as its not too sweeping. "I hope he's willing to work on some incremental things to help improve the system," DeMint said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued statements welcoming Obama back to the Capitol, but they proceeded to excoriate his health care plan. McConnell accused the White House of preferring "risky, sweeping changes that will increase the national debt."