Obama Wades into Heated Health Care Debate

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THE WHITE HOUSE - The debate over health care reform is stepping into high gear with President Barack Obama now taking an active role.

He wants health care reform to include an optional government-run program. But it's an idea that has opponents gearing up for a fight.

The administration's message is being heard in homes, churches and coffee shops around the country.

"I want to thank you so much for coming to be part of that, because we are the ones who will make this healthcare plan become law," said one volunteer.

Meetings like these, mostly made up of millions of Democratic volunteers from the campaign, are designed to rally support for President Obama's plan to overhaul health care.

"The status quo is broken," Obama said. "We cannot continue this way. If we do nothing, everyone's health care will be put in jeopardy."

After leaving the specifics to be spelled out by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the president now wades the debate front and center, pushing for an optional government-run health plan.

"The availability of a public option alongside private options for people who need health care is a positive thing," said Sr. White House advisor Davis Axelrod.

Not so to Republicans, who see it as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "A government takeover of health care."

"It will be the first steps in destroying the best health care system the world has ever known," said Sen. Richard Shelby R-AL.

And the the private sector is skeptical, too.

They are wary that a government-run insurance program would compete directly with private insurance companies.

They are also against a proposal that would require most employers to provide health insurance to workers or pay a penalty.

And then there's figuring out how to pay for the cost of expanding coverage - which could total more than $1 trillion on top of an already bloated deficit.

"The White House wants to address access, affordability and quality of service, and it's almost impossible to do all there at once," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenbery Political Report.

President Obama wants Congress to consider taxing the wealthy as a way to pay for the overhaul, rather than taxing employer-provided health insurance benefits. But reportedly, it's an idea that is still on the table, even though he spent millions of dollars to criticize Sen. John McCain when he pitched the idea last fall during the campaign.

Obama wants lawmakers to pass a bipartisan bill by the end of the summer, but his involvement and push for a government run plan could mean the Democratic-controlled house could pass legislation with little or no Republican support.

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John Jessup

John Jessup

CBN News Anchor

John Jessup serves as the main news anchor for CBN, a position he assumed after 10 years reporting for the network in Washington, D.C. His work in broadcast news has earned him several awards in reporting, producing, and coordinating elections coverage. Follow John on Twitter @JohnCBNNews and "like" him at Facebook.com/John.V.Jessup.