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Updated: March 7, 2010 22:26 IST

Obama talks tough on healthcare

Narayan Lakshman
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President Barack Obama is trying to persuade a weary public and wavering Democrats to get behind his frantic, late-stage push on healthcare reform, while Republicans demand starting from scratch.
AP President Barack Obama is trying to persuade a weary public and wavering Democrats to get behind his frantic, late-stage push on healthcare reform, while Republicans demand starting from scratch.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday talked tough on healthcare reform as only weeks remain for a possible “reconciliation” vote to pass the Democratic proposals in Congress.

Signalling his frustration with Republican intransigence, Mr. Obama said that even after a year of debate, a seven-hour bipartisan summit and despite his willingness to incorporate Republican ideas, the Republicans were insisting that the only acceptable course on healthcare was to start over.

Mr. Obama said: “But you know what? The insurance companies aren't starting over. I just met with some of them on Thursday and they couldn't give me a straight answer as to why they keep arbitrarily and massively raising premiums — by as much as 60 per cent in states like Illinois.”

In a counter-statement by Republicans, also broadcast on Sunday, Congressman Parker Griffith clearly indicated that the battle lines were being drawn. “In the next 10 days, Democrats in Washington will try and jam through a massive government takeover of healthcare,” he said.

This would raise taxes, reduce Medicare benefits and destroy American jobs. It would also allow medical decisions to be made by federal bureaucrats “and it must be stopped”, Mr. Griffith argued.

Rebutting some of the Republican critique Mr. Obama said: “If we let this opportunity pass for another year, or another decade, or another generation... more Americans will lose their family's health insurance if they switch jobs or lose their job.” Small businesses, the Medicare and Medicaid programmes and the federal deficit would also suffer as a result of rising insurance premiums, Mr. Obama argued.

In the eye of the storm is the reconciliation vote, a procedure allowing the policy to be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

In recent weeks Republicans have launched a scathing attack on its use, with Mr. Griffith describing it as a “toxic, controversial legislative scheme”.

However Mr. Obama stressed the need to get this bill passed into law after more than a year of political wrangling even if through an “up-or-down vote”, common parlance for reconciliation. Exhorting Congress to push healthcare reform through and finish its work, he said: “I ask them to give the American people an up or down vote. And let's show our citizens that it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future”.

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