September 8, 2009 in Nation/World

Obama says time for debate is over

Peter Nicholas Tribune Washington Bureau
Associated Press photo

Audience members cheer as President Barack Obama speaks about health care reform at the AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic at Coney Island in Cincinnati on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

CINCINNATI – In a combative Labor Day speech, President Barack Obama said the health care debate had gone on too long and accused opponents of spreading “lies” meant to convince Americans that his proposed overhaul would cruelly deny care to the elderly.

The president, speaking at an AFL-CIO picnic, said that “special interests” were determined to “scare the heck out of people.”

“I’ve got a question for all these folks who say, you know, we’re going to pull the plug on Grandma and this is all about illegal immigrants – you’ve heard all the lies,” Obama said. “I’ve got a question for all those folks: What are you going to do? What’s your answer? What’s your solution? And you know what? They don’t have one.”

The president seemed eager to recapture some of the enthusiasm that propelled him during his campaign. A prolonged recession has sapped morale, he said, as have pundits who warn that “this isn’t working and that’s not working.”

The president also gave a preview of what he plans to tell the nation Wednesday in an address before a joint session of Congress.

He said he wants to curb rising premiums, bar insurance companies from denying coverage to sick people and create a new marketplace that would offer reasonably priced coverage.

But his overriding message in Cincinnati was that health care discussions needed to end. In making that case, he was rejecting a Republican suggestion that he “reset” health care negotiations and start anew.

Obama said “every debate at some point comes to an end. At some point, it’s time to decide. At some point, it’s time to act.”

Obama’s appearance before the union crowd was a delicate one. The White House has signaled that it is willing to compromise on the “public option” – a government-run program that would compete with private insurers – rather than let a health care bill that includes such a plan collapse. But labor officials have made clear that they don’t want the president to bargain away the public option.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney appeared on stage before Obama’s arrival and called for a “proud public option to bring down costs and keep the insurance companies honest.”

In his speech, Obama reiterated that he favors a public option, but stopped short of saying he would veto any health care bill that lacks one.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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