After a summer of setbacks, President Barack Obama summoned Congress to enact sweeping health care legislation Wednesday night, declaring the "time for bickering is over" and the moment has arrived to help millions who have insurance and many more without it.
Obama said the changes he has in mind would cost about $900 billion over decade, "less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans" passed in the 1990s.
In a televised speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama spoke in favor of an option for the federal government to sell insurance in competition with private industry. But he said he was open to alternatives that create choices for consumers.
Obama's speech came as the president and his allies in Congress readied an autumn campaign to enact his top domestic priority. While Democrats command strong majorities in both the House and Senate, neither chamber has acted on Obama's top domestic priority, missing numerous deadlines leaders had set for themselves.
In a fresh sign of urgency, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced that his Senate Finance Committee would meet in two weeks to begin drafting legislation, whether or not a handful of Democrats and Republicans have come to an agreement. The panel is the last of five to act in Congress, and while the outcome is uncertain, it is the only one where bipartisanship has been given a chance to flourish.
Obama said there is widespread agreement on about 80 percent of what must be included in legislation. Any yet, criticizing Republicans without saying so, he added: "Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics" and ideological warfare that offers no hope for compromise.