Using better-than-expected jobs numbers to press his top domestic priority, President Barack Obama argued Saturday that overhauling the nation's costly health care system is essential to the country's economic well-being.
"We've begun to put the brakes on this recession and ... the worst may be behind us," Obama proclaimed in his weekly radio and Internet address, citing a new Labor Department report that shows a dip in unemployment. "But we must do more than rescue our economy from this immediate crisis; we must rebuild it stronger than before."
He added: "We must lay a new foundation for future growth and prosperity, and a key pillar of a new foundation is health insurance reform."
It's a pitch that comes as the Democratic-controlled Congress wrestles to write a health care plan that meets Obama's goals of expanding coverage to millions of uninsured while reining in exploding costs.
"So far they have produced a measure that they cannot sell even to their own members," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a jab at majority Democrats. "The only thing bipartisan, so far, is the opposition."
With lawmakers embarking on a monthlong summer break, opponents and supporters of various proposals under consideration are waging fierce campaigns. Obama is also redoubling his effort to explain his positions to a public that polls say is becoming increasingly wary he can deliver on his promise to revamp health care.
The president argued that Congress was close to finalizing "real health insurance reform" but, as he has for weeks now, he warned against listening to opponents who he said were spewing misleading information and outlandish claims to defeat "the best chance of reform we have ever had."
Countering the Democratic position, Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, argued that the new Labor Department report was "yet another reminder that families and small businesses are struggling as unemployment remains high."
In the Republican Party's response address, McDonnell sought to draw distinctions between Republicans and Democrats on economic and health care policy.
"As Republicans, we believe you create jobs by keeping taxes and regulation low, and litigation at a minimum. Americans succeed when government puts in place positive policies that encourage more freedom, and more opportunity," he said.
McDonnell also said that, unlike Democrats, Republicans are committed to helping the uninsured — "not through nationalizing the system with a costly government-run plan, but rather by supporting free-market incentives and helping small business owners make coverage more accessible and affordable, and ensuring that Americans can keep their individual private policies."