U.S. President Barack Obama went before Congress and the nation Wednesday night to urge action on his top domestic priority: health care reform. His nationally broadcast address followed a month a setbacks for the reform effort.
The president said the time for action on health care is now.
"The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," the president said. "Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do."
He said America's inability to deal with the rising costs of health care has led the nation to the breaking point. And he urged lawmakers to put politics aside and act for the common good.
"Everybody in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing," Mr. Obama said. "Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close."
But critics say the reform effort is moving too quickly. And they fear the result could be a complete government take-over of the health care system.
At a series of community meetings during the August congressional break, passions ran high.
There was anger and shouting at this town hall in Pennsylvania:
"And he's going to judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill!" one person said.
The president said some opponents are spreading lies. He made clear, he wants a fair fight.
"If you misrepresent what is in this plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now," President Obama said.
President Obama said he wants to incorporate ideas from all points on the political spectrum. He spoke of consumer protections for Americans who get their health care insurance from private companies, and government action to make sure health coverage is available to all.
"I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice," the president said.
Congressman Charles Boustany of Lousisiana delivered the formal Republican response to the president's address. He said the Democrats should scrap their existing health care proposals and start fresh.
"It's clear that many Americans want health care reform, but they want their elected leaders to get it right," the congressman said.
Boustany, who is one of several physicians in Congress, said Republicans agree reform is needed.
But during the president's address there was a dramatic reminder of just how deep the divide on health care has become.
"The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally," President Obama said.
"You lie!" a congressman from the audience shouted.
"It is the truth," President Obama responded.
The unusual outburst in the House chamber came from Republican Joe Wilson of South Carolina.