MINNEAPOLIS — After several days spent exhorting lawmakers in Washington to back his healthcare overhaul, President Obama took to the road Saturday for a campaign-style rally in which he said he would not cooperate with Republicans determined to kill his plan for political purposes.
Obama spoke to about 15,000 people at the Target Center here, invoking the phrases and insurgent spirit of his 2008 campaign. A raucous crowd cheered him and launched into chants of "Yes we can," the anthem of Obama's presidential bid.
The president made a wry mention of his speech Wednesday before a joint session of Congress, during which Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, "You lie!"
"I can already see that this crowd is a lot more fun," the president said.
With the healthcare debate in Congress reaching the endgame, Obama is pressing his argument on several fronts. He devoted his weekend radio address to the topic, and will appear on the CBS show "60 Minutes" tonight.
In excerpts of his interview released by CBS, Obama said he understands the political pitfalls that healthcare posed for his presidency.
"I have no interest in having a bill get passed that fails," Obama said.
"I intend to be president for a while, and once this bill passes, I own it," he continued. "And if people look and say, 'You know what? This hasn't reduced my costs. My premiums are still going up 25%, insurance companies are still jerking me around' -- I'm the one who's going to be held responsible."
In Minneapolis, Obama struck a combative tone and sought to link his healthcare overhaul to the momentous domestic initiatives overseen by other presidents.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, he pointed out, confronted charges that Social Security amounted to socialism -- the same label critics have attached to his healthcare plan.
Although Obama said he favored a bipartisan plan, he cautioned that he would not negotiate with Republicans who displayed bad faith. That may have been a reference to GOP negotiators in the Senate.
The White House has made plain its annoyance with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who was part of a bipartisan group of six senators negotiating a healthcare compromise. While engaged in that effort, Grassley put out a fundraising letter pledging to defeat "Obama-care."
"I will not waste time," the president said, "with those who think that it's just good politics to kill healthcare."
He also sought to imbue the debate with a sense of urgency.
"I don't know if you agree with me, but I think the time for bickering is over," he said. "The time for games has passed. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to deliver on healthcare for every American."
At that, the audience rose to its feet and began chanting, "Yes we can!"
Few of the ideas Obama mentioned at the rally were new. He talked about making it illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of preexisting conditions. And under his plan, he said, no insurer could rescind coverage when a person gets sick.
Obama pledged that his proposal, estimated to cost $900 billion over 10 years, would not mean a bigger federal deficit, although he offered few specifics as to how that would be accomplished. Hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare waste would be eliminated as part of his overhaul, he said.
The president reiterated that he favored a so-called public option, a government-run program that would compete with private insurers. But he also said that he was willing to compromise on that point, a position that may be necessary if he expects to win over conservative Democrats.
"Now, Minnesota, I have said that I'm open to different ideas on how to set this up," he said. "But I'm not going to back down from the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we're going to provide you a choice."
Though Obama has ventured out of Washington before to sell his plan, Saturday's event seemed to be an effort to resurrect the excitement of the '08 campaign. Obama used the phrase "Not this time, not now" in promising the Minneapolis crowd that he would to thwart special interests that were plotting to sink the healthcare legislation. That phrase had been a staple of his campaign speeches.
Republicans were unimpressed.
"One thing that's already apparent in this debate is that the problem isn't the administration's sales pitch," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. "The problem is what they're selling. Americans are rightly concerned about a rush to hike taxes on small businesses, cut seniors' Medicare benefits and add trillions of dollars in more government spending and debt.
"The status quo is unacceptable. But so are the alternatives that the administration and Democrats in Congress have proposed," he said.
With polls showing Americans warming to Obama's plan in the wake of his speech to Congress, the White House said it believed it had recaptured momentum.
Talking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Minneapolis, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said: "Based on what I've read and seen in many of your outlets, people that watched the speech came away understanding more clearly what the president was proposing, more clearly how it would help them.
"That's certainly a benefit to us and the president. More importantly, it also provides important momentum . . . to get something done finally this year."