WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama declared Wednesday that now is the time to act on healthcare, drawing a line in the sand by calling for a straight "up or down" vote that would handcuff Republicans by blocking their ability to fight the bill through a filibuster.
"I do not see how another year of negotiations would help," said Obama, flanked by healthcare professionals in white coats during a short speech in the East Room of the White House. "It's a problem that will only grow worse."
The president, who as a senator preached against using the maneuver called "reconciliation" to bypass Senate procedures requiring 60 votes to move forward on a bill, is now changing his tune.
"No matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on healthcare reform," he added.
Obama also argued against the Republican stance that healthcare reform would work best if done in step-by-step increments.
"The fact is, health reform only works if you take care of all these problems at once," he said before offering a challenge to Republicans: "If they truly believe that less regulation would lead to higher quality, more affordable health insurance, then they should vote against the proposal I've put forward."
Republicans won't have to be asked twice to oppose the final bill.
"The only thing that will be bipartisan about this proposal is the opposition to it," warned Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell moments after Obama finished. "This is really not an argument between Democrats and Republicans, it is an argument between the Democrats and the American people."
McConnell added that Republicans remain convinced they are on the side of the American people on this issue.
"It is not even close," he said, adding that Republicans will campaign this November to repeal the healthcare bill if it passes. "One could conclude that you would be history if you vote for this bill . . . because every election in America this fall will be a referendum on this issue."
Obama also spent time rallying pro-reform troops, urging them to make their voices heard on an issue the president claimed "lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship; misrepresentation and misunderstanding."
This sets up what is sure to be a frenzied month of healthcare maneuvering on Capitol Hill.
Obama is sprinkling into his final plan a few GOP proposals taken from last week's bipartisan summit, including measures to overhaul medical malpractice lawsuits, to cut down on fraudulent medical charges, and to provide tax incentives for individuals to cut back on unnecessary doctor visits.
But congressional Democratic leaders may not agree to these tweaks, and Republican lawmakers remain skeptical.
"If the president simply adds a couple of Republican solutions to a trillion-dollar healthcare package that the American people don't support, it isn't bipartisanship, it's political cover," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Obama on Wednesday tried to set the stakes higher than healthcare, arguing that the next month will test Washington's "ability to solve any problem." He said the debate is about "the kind of country we want to be."
Indeed, American voters are eager to see what kind of country Congress thinks we should be: one that believes greater government involvement is the answer to the nation's problems or one that believes people want more freedoms and less governmental restrictions and mandates.
Then this November, voters will undoubtedly let Congress know if they got the answer right.