Obama to address Congress on reform

By Mike Allen
|  Wednesday, Sep 2, 2009  |  Updated 7:10 PM CDT
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Obama to Address Congress on Health Care Reform

AP

President Barack Obama speaks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Phoenix, Monday, Aug. 17.

President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress on health care reform in prime time on Wednesday, Sept. 9, a senior official tells POLITICO.

Obama plans to give lawmakers a more specific prescription for health care legislation than he has in the past, aides said.

Congress technically returns to Washington on Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. But many members had planned Sept. 9 as their first workday, so Obama is seizing the first moment when he will have maximum impact.

The address to Congress, the second since Obama took offiice, is a way for White House aides to achieve maximum news coverage as they kick off their plans to recovery from a disappointing August congressional break, which saw the president's poll number fall as voices of opposition to health care legislation rose.

The exact time of the speech has not been set, but prime time ensures a huge viewing audience beyond the Beltway.

Presidential aides have promised Obama will take back the reins after allowing Congress to work its will on his idea, without one specific plan for Democratic lawmakers to defend back home. We’re entering a new season,” senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done. We’re confident that we can do that. But obviously it is a different phase. We’re going to approach it in a different way. The president is going to be very active.”

Aides said Obama does not plan to make a public option, or government plan, a make-or-break issue when he spells out his specifics. “We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition,” an aide said. “There are lots of different ways to get there.”

The timing, format, venue and content of Obama's presentation are still being debated in the West Wing. Aides have discussed whether to stick to broad principles, or to send specific legislative language to Capitol Hill. Some hybrid is likely, the officials said.
The White House said given the Senate Finance Committee until Sept. 15 to try to reach a bipartisan deal, but Obama now is short-circuiting that process. Axelrod said Tuesday: "We’re not in the second inning. We’re not in the fourth inning. We’re in the eighth or ninth inning here, and so there’s not a lot of time to waste.”

"His goal is to create the best possible situation for consumers, create competition and choice," Axelrod said. "We want to bring a measure of security to people who have health insurance today. We want to help those who don't have coverage today, because they can't afford it, get insurance they can afford. And we want to do it in a way that reduces the overall cost of the system as a whole."

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