WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama urged Democrats and Republicans on Saturday to find common ground at a White House summit next week he hopes will rejuvenate efforts to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system.
Obama also used his weekly radio and Internet address to take aim at health insurance companies, saying the status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America.
Overhauling the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry is Obama's signature domestic policy, but his fellow Democrats have been struggling to get it through Congress in the face of solid Republican opposition and a skeptical public.
As bad as things are today, they'll only get worse if we fail to act. We'll see exploding premiums and out-of-pocket costs burn through more and more family budgets, Obama said.
Since the start of the year, Obama has sought to regain control of the public debate on healthcare, revive flagging enthusiasm for the overhaul among some Democratic lawmakers, and inject new momentum into the process.
Democrats face tough congressional elections in November in which Republicans are expected to make inroads into their majorities in Congress. The passage of a healthcare bill could boost Democrats' election hopes.
Obama said he had invited members of the Democratic and Republican parties to the healthcare summit on Thursday to share ideas on how to bring down healthcare costs, which he has repeatedly warned threaten to cripple the U.S. economy.
I hope they come in a spirit of good faith. I don't want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points, he said.
Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that's been with us for generations.
Republicans have said they will attend, but they are wary the White House is trying to set a political trap for them, preparing to blame them if the healthcare effort falters.
Nearly one year ago, the president moderated a healthcare summit that kicked off a national debate that has led us to where we are today: a partisan bill devoid of support from the American people and a diminished faith in this government's capacity to listen. Let's not make the same mistake twice, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.
The administration, congressional Democrats and advocacy groups have also been turning up the rhetorical heat on health insurers that in recent weeks announced huge premium increases against the backdrop of sizable profits and growing numbers of uninsured people.
Obama echoed the criticism, saying the five largest insurers had made record profits of more than $12 billion even as millions of Americans lost their coverage.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)