President Barack Obama gathered doctors from every U.S. state at the White House on Monday to press his case for healthcare reform in a week when the sweeping overhaul could clear a major hurdle in Congress.
The Senate Finance Committee, the last of five panels in Congress to move on healthcare, votes this week on Obama's top domestic policy priority, an effort meant to cut costs, regulate insurers and expand health insurance coverage to the millions of Americans now going without.
"At this point, we've heard all the arguments on both sides of the aisle," Obama told the crowd of white-coated doctors who support the healthcare drive at the White House Rose Garden.
"We have listened to every charge and every counter-charge -- from the crazy claims about death panels to misleading warnings about a government takeover of our health care system," he said. The Senate Finance Committee wrapped up debate on the overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system on Friday and could vote on its plan as soon as Tuesday.
The plan, first put forward by committee chairman Max Baucus, had a price tag of $900 billion.
Passage by the committee will be a major victory, but the overhaul still has a long road ahead. The finance committee's bill must be merged with another committee's even before going to the full Senate in mid-October.
Obama's Democrats are divided on major issues, especially whether to include a government-run insurance plan, the so-called "public option," strongly supported by liberals but opposed by conservatives and heatedly opposed by the insurance industry.
The finance committee plan does not include a public option, and Obama did not mention one at Monday's event. The reform plans have yet to win support from any Republicans as they make their way through Congress.
House Minority Leader Representative John Boehner said the overhaul schemes are too expensive and that "thousands of doctors" have objected to it because it would cripple their ability to care for patients. "Members of the medical community -- who deal with red tape day in and day out -- rightly recognize that the Democrats' government takeover would weaken the doctor-patient relationship that is so critical to making the right health care decisions," he said.
Obama touted the support of doctors and nurses as one of the strongest arguments in favor of reform and called on the doctors to push for a plan.
If they do so, "I'm confident we are going to get health reform passed this year,"