As debate over health care reform reaches a fevered peak, President Obama urged passage of the legislation in Congress with a rousing campaign-style speech in Virginia. Republicans vowed to remain steadfast in their opposition, but the top GOP House leader acknowledged that the numbers were not in their favor.
The president, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at George Mason University in Fairfax, called the conflict over the bill "a debate over the character of our country." He put the effort into the context of a long history health care reform movements dating back to Teddy Roosevelt, and likened the bill to other major pieces of legislation, such as the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"The time for reform is now. We have waited long enough. And in just few days from now, a centuries long struggle will culminate in a historic vote," he said.
The vote on the bill was expected to come on Sunday, as lobbying and campaigning reached a frenzied pitch. Tea Party activists who oppose the effort are planning to protest in Washington over the weekend, while supporters of the legislation have ramped up their own efforts to pressure lawmakers.
Another protest is also planned for Sunday, in support of immigration reform. While ostensibly separate from health care, political efforts to reform health care and immigration policy became intertwined this week when the White House signaled it would forcefully back immigration reform. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus then dropped their opposition to the bill, and pledged to back the health care bill.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the chairman of the caucus, acknowledged that the two issues were linked, saying in a statement, "I believe we have a health care bill I can vote 'yes' for, and I believe we have a commitment to move forward on a comprehensive immigration reform package as soon as possible."
Republicans pledged to continue their opposition to the legislation. House Minority Leader John Boehner, speaking to reports the same time that the president was at George Mason, said the legislation introduced Thursday was worse than earlier versions of the legislation, saying it was weighted down with benefits for specific lawmakers.
"I know the president's doing the hard sell on this bill, telling Democrat members that his presidency is on the line," he said. "But this vote isn't about saving a presidency or saving a politicians. This is about doing the right thing for the American people."
He also tacitly acknowledged that Republicans don't have the numbers to block it, saying "Republicans can't beat this bill, but the American people can." He also warned that there would be repercussion in the future, saying "If anyone thinks that the American people are going to forget this vote, just watch."