President Barack Obama appeared in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday to talk about his top domestic priority: health care reform.
Flanked by representatives from the American Nurses Association, the president praised the Senate health committee's vote Wednesday on legislation expanding insurance coverage to nearly all Americans, becoming the first congressional panel to act.
"This progress should make us hopeful — but it can't make us complacent. It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess," the president said.
House Democratic leaders also unveiled a $1.5 trillion plan Tuesday that would tax the rich to help provide health care for all.
The Senate committee's 13-10 party line vote advanced a $600 billion measure that would require individuals to get health insurance and employers to contribute to the cost.
The bill calls for the government to provide financial assistance with premiums for individuals and families making up to four times the federal poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four, a broad cross-section of the middle class. The legislation is but one piece of a broader Senate bill still under development.
"This time we've produced legislation that by and large I think the American people want," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who stood in for committee chairman Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Kennedy, who's made health care legislation a lifelong priority, is being treated for brain cancer.
But ranking Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming argued that the bill would break Obama's promises by adding to the deficit.
The president's Rose Garden statement marked the third straight day Obama has kept up a full-court press on health care. The drive included a television ad blitz by Obama's political operation, targeting moderate lawmakers of both parties.
"We cannot allow this issue to be delayed. We cannot put it off again," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee, said Tuesday. "We, quite frankly, cannot go home for a recess unless the House and the Senate both pass bills to reform and restructure our health care system."
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid said he wanted floor debate to begin a week from Monday. With the Senate Finance Committee still struggling to reach consensus, that timetable could slip. Even so, it underscored a renewed sense of urgency.
"There's going to be a major debate over the next three weeks," Obama said Tuesday in Warren, Mich., deviating from his prepared text on new spending for community colleges. "And don't be fooled by folks trying to scare you saying we can't change the health care system. We have no choice but to change the health care system because right now it's broken for too many Americans."