Obama says "time to act" for healthcare reform

CINCINNATI, Ohio (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama insisted on Monday "it's time to act" for healthcare reform as he geared up for a major address to Congress this week aimed at getting his top domestic policy priority back on track.

Taking his case for a healthcare overhaul to America's economically hard-hit heartland, Obama sought to seize back the initiative on the divisive issue after losing ground to critics during a turbulent summer.

"It's time to do what's right for America's working families and put aside partisanship, stop saying things that aren't true, come together as a nation, pass health insurance reform now -- this year," Obama told a cheering crowd at a Labor Day picnic held by the AFL-CIO union coalition in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Obama's holiday visit to the Midwest was a preview of a prime time speech he will deliver to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday when he will lay out his proposed revamp of the healthcare system to wary lawmakers and a skeptical public.

With his poll numbers down from once-lofty heights, Obama's effort to reclaim control of the debate is seen as a key test of his leadership that could define his young presidency.

Overhauling the troubled $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, by cutting costs and expanding coverage to the estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance, is Obama's top domestic initiative.

But Obama's fellow Democrats who control Congress have struggled to craft a reform bill and most Republicans have fought it.

The debate is now reaching a make-or-break point.

After a summer of sometimes bitter words, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Sunday that the president will "draw some lines in the sand" in his speech on Wednesday.

Obama's top aides said he still wants a government insurance option in healthcare legislation but they left room for a compromise that could disappoint his liberal backers.

Weighing in on issue in Cincinnati, Obama said: "I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."


Despite polls showing Americans increasingly concerned about his healthcare strategy, Obama's reform message appeared to resonate with union members, who gave him an enthusiastic reception at Cincinnati's Coney Island Park.

Signs that read "Health care can't wait" dotted the crowd of several thousand people. Labor was a key base of support for Obama in his campaign for the presidency.

"At some point, it's time to decide. At some point, it's time to act," Obama said. "It's time to act and get this thing done." Continued...


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