EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

National News

September 3, 2009

Obama aims to take control of health care debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hoping to salvage his politically endangered health care overhaul, President Barack Obama will give a State of the Union-style address featuring fresh and more detailed arguments for revamping the system.

Scheduling of the speech for Wednesday, just a day after lawmakers return from their August recess, underscores the determination of the White House to confront critics of Obama's overhaul proposals and to buck up supporters who have been thrown on the defensive. Allies have been urging the president to be more specific about his plans and to take a greater role in the debate, and aides have signaled he will do that in the address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber.

The speech's timing also suggests that top Democrats have all but given up hope for a bipartisan breakthrough by Senate Finance Committee negotiators. The White House had given those six lawmakers until Sept. 15 to draft a plan, but next week's speech comes well ahead of that deadline.

It follows an August recess in which critics of Obama's health proposals dominated many public forums. Approval ratings for Obama, and for his health care proposals, dropped during the month.

Obama must choose between accepting a somewhat modest bill, probably focused on broader insurance coverage and capable of winning widespread support in Congress, and a more ambitious and expensive bill that could displease crucial moderate Democrats in the House and Senate.

Vice President Joe Biden suggested Thursday that Obama will not be timid.

"We're going to get something substantial," he told a gathering at the Brookings Institution. "It's going to be an awful lot of screaming and hollering before we get there. But I believe we're going to get there."

Biden said Obama will lay out the main options for a health care overhaul and "what he thinks those pieces have to be and will be."

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