WASHINGTON (CN) - President Obama called on lawmakers to hold an "up or down" vote on health care within the next few weeks, saying the time for debate is over. By calling for such a vote, Obama implicitly endorsed the controversial reconciliation process which requires only a simple majority.
Obama tied the success of the bill to the success of the government. "Now is the time to make a decision," Obama said roughly a year after he started his push for reform.
"I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform," he said in the East Room of the White House.
"Every idea has been put on the table. Every argument has been made. Everything there is to say about health care has been said," he said. "And just about everybody has said it." The crowd laughed.
While Obama did not explicitly call for reconciliation - the process for budget issues requiring only a simple majority in the Senate to pass - he said a simple majority in Congress should be able to pass the bill. He noted that welfare reform, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and both Bush tax cuts were all passed with a simple majority.
The legislation would raise taxes by roughly $100 billion a year to lower drug prices, provide tax credits for middle class coverage and expand Medicaid to 30 million uninsured citizens.
"The bottom line is our proposal is paid for," he said, in reminding Americans that it would reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next 20 years, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.
Obama's proposal would also mandate that individuals buy insurance and would impose new restrictions on insurance companies, baring them from raising prices too quickly, from not accepting customers based on pre-existing conditions, and from dropping coverage when a patient tries to use it.
He criticized Republican calls to introduce legislation piecemeal, and has made the case that an insurance mandate must accompany a rule requiring that insurance companies don't deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Otherwise, Americans would only buy insurance when a health problem arises, he said.
Obama said starting over on health legislation, as Republicans have called for, could lead to years of delay that would only drag the government closer to bankruptcy and continue to churn out uninsured people at a rate of 14,000 per day.
Shortly after Obama's 20-minute speech, the White House announced that Obama will visit Pennsylvania and Missouri next week to promote the health legislation. "From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform," he said.
But he also called for the help of supporters. "Make your voice heard," he said.
In equating the success of the bill with the success of his government, Obama said, "At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem," he said. "The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to lead."
He ended on a confident note, saying, "I look forward to signing this reform into law."
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