WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden asserted Thursday that a health care bill will be done by Thanksgiving because President Barack Obama has "re-centered debate" and there's an emerging bipartisan consensus for change despite fights over details like the government-run option.
"I think the most important thing he did, he also debunked a lot of the myths out there, the idea of death panels, that we were going to insure undocumented aliens," said Biden, touring the morning network news shows a day after Obama delivered what he hopes was a game-changing appeal to a joint session of Congress.
Obama went to Capitol Hill determined to sweep away a summer of gridlock on his top domestic priority, and his vice president argued that he'd accomplished just that in the nationally broadcast, prime-time address.
"I believe we will have a bill," Biden said. "I've been in the Congress for a very long time, eight presidents. I believe we will have a bill before Thanksgiving."
Sen. John McCain, also interviewed Thursday morning, said he agreed that something needs to be done about health care. But he also said that if the administration wants to see legislation realized, it must reach out more aggressively to minority Republicans.
Asked if he thinks there should be health care overhaul legislation, the Arizona Republican replied, "I really hope so. ... It's good for America. We need to do it, but it has to be bipartisan. We can't lay another trillion dollars of debt on the next generation ... It's generational theft."
Obama on Wednesday night addressed Washington insiders and Americans with and without health insurance, in addition to the lawmakers arrayed before him in the cavernous House chamber. He spelled out where he stands on key issues. And while some of his explanations — notably on costs — were incomplete, he left no doubt he's taking ownership.
"To this date, the health care debate has looked like a tennis match between leaders in Congress, with the president sort of watching as it goes back and forth," said Robert Blendon, a public opinion expert at the Harvard School of Public Health. "He's taken control of this issue for now, and into the future it looks like there's a plan, and he's leading it."
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. snap poll of people interviewed before and after the speech indicated that the president shifted public opinion in his favor. After the speech, two-thirds said they supported Obama's health care proposals, compared with 53 percent in a survey days before the president spoke. About one in seven speech-watchers changed their minds on Obama's proposal, but the audience was more Democratic than the U.S. population as a whole, so the results do not reflect the views of all Americans.
Moderate Democrats responded positively, while Republicans said Obama came up short, even if he showered them with attention. Liberals seemed to take it in stride that Obama signaled flexibility on the government-sponsored plan they want to create to compete with private insurers.
"If the details live up to the quality of the speech, then it's a good plan," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., one of the fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he believes Obama is still out of step with the kind of health care changes most Americans want because his plan entails too much government.
"The White House changed its sales pitch tonight," McConnell said. "But Americans weren't looking for a new sales pitch. They're looking for a new proposal."
Obama said his plan would give the majority of people who have health insurance greater security. Their policies could not be canceled if they get sick. And they would be able to find affordable coverage if they get laid off or decide to start a business. Insurers would not be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
For the millions who lack insurance — or have trouble getting it — Obama's plan would set up a new marketplace in which consumers could pool together. Government subsidies would be available to make premiums more affordable. But individuals would be required to get coverage, and employers would have to contribute.
Asked Thursday if Obama should have taken the public option off the table in the interest of furthering chances of agreement on a bill, Biden said he didn't think so.
"He laid out the underlying principles as to why there is a need for a public option," the vice president said. "He will not yield on the basic principle: If Americans cannot find affordable insurance, he will offer them a choice."
"He is willing to sign a bill, any bill, by whatever mechanisms you call it, that in fact guarantees that there is in fact a choice for people that is affordable," Biden added. "We think the competitive option is competitive ... It would have to be paid for by its own premiums ... If they have a better idea about how to accomplish that principle, we'll listen to it."
The president's speech came as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced he will move forward on legislation by the end of the month. The Finance Committee is considered pivotal because it mirrors the composition of the Senate. Baucus had delayed action for months, hoping to win a bipartisan agreement. But Wednesday, he said he would press ahead with or without a deal.
Obama said he remains ready to listen to all ideas but added, in a clear reference to Republicans, "I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it."
In an unusual outburst from the Republican side of the House chamber, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted out "You lie" when the president said illegal immigrants would not benefit from his proposals. The president paused briefly and smiled, but from her seat in the visitor's gallery, first lady Michelle Obama shook her head from side to side in disapproval of the interruption.
Wilson later apologized for "this lack of civility."
Biden appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," CBS's "The Early Show" and NBC's "Today" show. McCain was interviewed on the "Today" show.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.