US PRESIDENT Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have taken a hit over heated debates on healthcare reform, will address Congress tonight in an attempt to regain control of one of his top legislative priorities.
The speech is a crucial test for Obama, who also faces a drop in support for the war in Afghanistan as security deteriorates and casualties rise in the eight-year-old conflict.
The address comes after many US legislators were heckled by irate healthinsurance reform opponents in August at public forums on healthcare, dubbed “town hall meetings”.
His healthcare reform plans – a key plank of his 2008 presidential campaign – face trouble especially over “public option” plans, which supporters say are necessary to keep the insurance industry honest and help cover the 46 million uninsured Americans.
The debate has certainly dented Obama’s popularity: a Pew Research Centre poll released recently has the president’s approval rating dropping 10 points, to 52%, since his 100-day mark in April.
The economy, however, was giving some encouraging signs, with the number of job losses decreasing in August.
On Monday, Labour Day in the US, Obama told union workers in Cincinnati, in the northern state of Ohio, that the country is on the “road to recovery” after a year of financial turmoil.
“We’re also going to build an America where health reform delivers more stability and security to every American,” Obama said.
“We’ve been fighting for quality affordable healthcare for every American for nearly a century.
“The Congress and the country has been debating this issue for many months. The debate is good because that’s important ... but every debate at some point comes to an end. At some point it’s time to decide,” he said.
The president also hit back forcefully at critics who have attacked him and his allies on their push for reform.
“I’ve got a question for all of those folks. What are you going to do? What’s your answer? What’s your solution?” Obama asked.
“They don’t have one. Their answer is to do nothing and we know what that future looks like. Insurance companies raking in the profits while discriminating people,” he said.
Critics have also slammed Obama for failing to outline specifically what he wants, but everyone will know “exactly where the president stands, exactly what he thinks we have to do to get healthcare reform this year” tonight, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs promised on ABC’s This Week programme.
Obama “strongly believes that we have to have [a public] option like this to provide choice and competition, to provide a check on insurance companies,” Gibbs added.
In the address Obama will also “talk about the public option and why he believes and continues to believe that it is a valuable component of providing choice and competition,” he added,
It is unclear however how much support Obama’s Democrats will get from the opposition Republicans.
“Republicans are not going to agree on the public option nor should they. It’s a bad idea,” Minnesota Governor and leading Republican Tim Pawlenty told CNN.
He said he hoped politicians “could come together an a bipartisan basis. There’s lots of things we can agree on”.
Meanwhile, a handful of senators are trying to find solutions acceptable to both parties.
Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Olympia Snowe say they support a “trigger option” that would go into effect if the private insurance industry does not enact reforms to cover more uninsured Americas.
Pawlenty insisted at the weekend that if Democrats embrace the public option in any way, “even in the form of the trigger, they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot”.
lObama is to address the joint session of Congress at midnight Irish time.
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