'Go for it,' Obama tells GOP on health repeal

President Barack Obama dared Republicans to try to repeal his new health care law, telling them Thursday to "Go for it" and see how well they do with voters in November.

"Be my guest," Obama said in the first of many planned appearances to sell the revamp before fall congressional elections. "If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don't believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver's seat."

With emotions raw around the nation over this week's Democrats-only vote to approve the nearly $1 trillion redesign of the health care system, Obama took the opposition to task for "plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric."

"If you turn on the news, you'll see that those same folks are still shouting about how it's going to be the end of the world because this bill passed," said Obama, returning to the college town where, as a presidential candidate three years ago, he unveiled his plan to provide health care for all.

No Republican lawmakers voted for the 10-year, sweeping package that Obama signed Tuesday and will shape how almost every American will receive and pay for medical treatment. Many in the GOP are predicting it will prove devastating in November for the Democrats who voted for it.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the GOP won't give up "until this bill is repealed and replaced with common-sense ideas" that won't dismantle the current system and increase the debt.

Some Democratic lawmakers have faced threats and vandalism because of their votes. Obama didn't mention the incidents.

The president stressed the notion of a promise kept. As the crowd broke into a chant of "Yes we can!", Obama corrected them: "Yes we did!"

Challenged by a young man in the audience who shouted several times, "What about the public option," a liberal-backed proposal for the creation of a government-sponsored plan to compete with private insurers, Obama said: "We couldn't get it through Congress."

"This legislation is not perfect, as you just heard," the president said. "But what this is, is a historic step to enshrine the principle that everybody gets health care coverage in this country, every single person."

Afterward, Obama visited Prairie Lights Books - killing two birds with one stone. He had highlighted the store in his speech as a small business that has offered coverage to full-time employees for 20 years, but is struggling to continue to do so after its premiums rose last year by 35 percent. Obama also has frequently complained of his inability as president to do regular things - like browse a bookstore.

The White House suggests it has the upper hand on the issue politically, arguing the GOP risks a voter backlash because a repeal would take away many benefits. Among them are tax credits for small businesses to provide health care to their workers and $250 rebates for seniors to help pay for their presciption medications.

Obama spoke as Democrats in Washington raced to complete the overhaul with a separate package of fixes to the main bill.

Senate leaders finished work Thursday on the fix-it legislation, already approved in the House. But Republican attempts to derail the bill resulted in minor changes, meaning the House must vote on it again before Obama can sign it. The House vote was expected by evening.

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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