By Arun Kumar
Washington, March 9 (IANS) Facing a tough legislative battle to push healthcare reforms, his key domestic priority, an aggressive President Barack Obama has trained his guns on private health insurers for recent rate hikes.
Congress "owes the American people a final up or down vote on health care", he said at Arcadia University near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Monday asserting that the plan now being considered includes the best Democratic and Republican ideas.
The time for debate, he argued, has ended. "Stand with me and fight with me. ... Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp," Obama said seeking public support for a plan he wants to sign into law before the congressional Easter break at the end of the month.
"The price of health care is one of the most punishing costs for families, businesses, and our government," Obama said. "The insurance companies continue to ration health care. ... That's the status quo in America and it's a status quo that's unsustainable."
Insurance companies, the president argued, have made a calculation. He cited a recent Goldman Sachs conference call in which an insurance broker told investors that insurers are willing to lose some customers through premium hikes because of an overall lack of competition in the industry.
"They will keep doing this for as long as they can get away with it," he said. "How much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance? How many more businesses have to drop coverage?"
Obama dismissed Republican criticism that his nearly $1 trillion proposal fails to sufficiently control spiralling medical costs. "You had 10 years," Obama said in reference to Republican control of Congress. "What were you doing?"
He also brushed aside warnings by political observers that health care reform may lead to major Democratic losses in the looming midterm elections.
Washington is "obsessed with the sport of politics," he said. "We have debated health care in Washington for more than a year. ... When's the right time? If not now, when? If not us, who?"
But "the issue here is not the politics of it", he said, adding Congress and the president were sent to Washington to "solve the big challenges".
CNN cited two Democratic leadership aides as saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is aiming to have the House of Representatives pass the Senate's health care bill by March 17.
A separate package of changes designed in part to make the overall measure more palatable to House liberals would then be approved by both chambers, getting through the Senate under a controversial legislative manoeuvre known as reconciliation.
Bills passed under reconciliation require only a bare Senate majority of 51 votes. The new tactic has been necessitated since Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate supermajority with the election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown in January.