WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2009 — -- In his address to a joint session of Congress tonight, President Obama decried the "partisan spectacle" that has stymied the debate over health care in recent months and called on Democrats and Republicans to come together for a "season of action."
"[T]he time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," the president told members of the House and Senate who showed their partisanship in their reactions throughout the 45-minute speech.
"Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do," Obama said. "Now is the time to deliver on health care."
Obama was interrupted more than 50 times by applause from members of Congress, including a few bipartisan gestures of approval.
But one member, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., interrupted the president's speech to yell, "You lie!" after the president asserted his proposals would not provide health insurance to illegal immigrants.
Later, Wilson offered a written apology.
"This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill," he said. "While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, delivered the formal Republican response to the president's speech and rapped Obama for not taking the controversial idea of a government-run "public option" off the table.
Echoing points made by Republican leaders, Boustany said the president should have scrapped Democratic proposals and started over.
"Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate] Majority Leader [Harry] Reid and the rest of Congress that it's time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality," he said.
In advance of Boustany's response, Democrats circulated a briefing that noted Boustany was sued for malpractice eight times during his medical career.
With expectations high for him to deliver more specifics, Obama said the plan he is proposing would cost about $900 billion over 10 years, which he noted was less than the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and less than the Bush tax cuts.
"Most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent -- but spent badly -- in the existing health care system," he said.
Obama expressed his support for a government insurance option that would compete with private insurance companies as a way stimulate competition and lower overall health care costs.
"Let me be clear -- it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance," he said.
The president did not threaten to veto any legislation that does not contain a public option and stressed that the public option is just one aspect of his overall plan.
"To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it," he said. "The public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.
"And to my Republican friends," he added, "I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have."