Democrats recharged, GOP unmoved by Obama

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President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on his embattled healthcare reform plan September 9, 2009 at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Congressional Democrats — energized by President Obama's pronouncement that "the time for bickering is over" — prepared Thursday for a final push aimed at crafting a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system.

"Yes it's messy, yes there will be starts and stops, but the good news from this speech gave the issue a kick in the pants," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told NPR shortly after Obama's joint address to Congress.

Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek said the speech gave Democrats a renewed sense of purpose.

"Walking away from the chamber tonight, members knew that they had a responsibility" not to "kick the can down the street," he said.

More importantly, some fiscally conservative "blue dog" Democrats, many of whom have questioned their more liberal colleagues on how to pay for a health care overhaul, liked what they heard.

The speech "called out some of the extremes on both sides to say you can't get everything you want," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota.

Republicans, however, showed few signs of wavering from their steadfast opposition to the Democrats' proposals. In their response to the president's speech, delivered by Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, Republicans acknowledged the need for change while resisting "government-run" care.

"We agree, much needs to be done to lower the cost of health care for all Americans," Boustany said, adding that Republicans were ready to start over on a bipartisan effort.

"Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer. In fact, it will make health care much more expensive," said Boustany, who is also a heart surgeon. "That's not just my personal diagnosis as a doctor or a Republican, it's the conclusion of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the neutral score-keeper that determines the cost of major bills."

Others were more succinct. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told NPR that he thought the president's speech was "a complete disaster."

"It made me think, quite frankly, that the president has lost his cool on this issue," he said.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said the president's renewed call for bipartisanship had "a few thorns on those olive branches," adding that it was "one more speech about a bad plan."

Even if congressional Republicans weren't swayed, early indications were that at least some average Americans were.

A snap CNN poll of 427 adult Americans who watched the speech indicated that 67 percent of those surveyed afterward favored Obama's health care plan, while 29 percent did not. That compares to a pre-speech breakout of 53 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

In the retirement community of Vizcaya in Delray Beach, Fla., retiree Judy Goldstein said she had been fearful of the rumors of "death panels" and was encouraged by what Obama said to try to clear up confusion.

"I was listening to all the negative things, especially since I am a senior citizen. I said, 'Oh my god, they are going to put me to sleep,'" she told NPR.

"I don't consider myself stupid, but I was really believeing it, because I did not vote for him," Goldstein said. "A lot of things about him I did not like, so I am glad I heard this tonight."

But at an Irish pub in Denver, where a group of libertarians known as Liberty on the Rocks meets every other Wednesday, T.L. James was among those unmoved by the president's address. He said he didn't believe Obama's nod to exploring tort reform that would limit malpractice claims.

"The tort lawyers form an important part of the Democratic power base for their elections. There is no way that he's going to do anything that is going to turn them away from the Democratic party," James said.

What is likely to be the most talked-about moment in the speech, however, came not from the president but from South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, whose outburst of "You lie!" when Obama pledged no health care benefits would go to illegal immigrants shocked the chamber.

Wilson later apologized for his "lack of civility."

Democrats and Republicans alike have denounced the outburst as an extraordinary breach of decorum.

"There'll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said late Wednesday on WTOP radio when asked about possible punishment for Wilson. "I've talked to Republican members who share that view."

House Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but there was widespread condemnation of the outburst from members of both parties.

Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the incident made him "embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love."

Biden also said he thought the president's speech "debunked a lot of myths out there" including accusations the legislation being drafted would includes "death panels" for the sick and the elderly, and that it would also provide insurance coverage for millions of undocumented immigrants.

He predicted that health care legislation would be on the president's desk "before Thanksgiving."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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