US President Barack Obama (C) speaks about health care reform before a joint session of the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington September 9, 2009.
President Barack Obama urged Congress to enact sweeping health care legislation Wednesday night, declaring the "time for bickering is over" and the moment has arrived to help millions who have insurance and many more without it.
His nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress comes as Obama's popularity is falling, opposition Republicans are on the attack and his fellow Democrats are divided about what kind of plan to pursue.
"I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last," Obama said.
Health care has become the definitive issue for Obama, just nine months after he took office amid enormous expectations at home and abroad. His success or failure may determine whether he has the political clout to press ahead on issues like climate change, arms control and the Afghanistan war. It is also likely to shape next year's congressional elections.
Obama said there is widespread agreement on about 80 percent of what must be included in legislation. Any yet, criticizing opposition Republicans without saying so, he added: "Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics" and ideological warfare that offers no hope for compromise.
"Well, the time for bickering is over," he said. "The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action."
Obama spoke in favor of an option for the US government to sell insurance in competition with private industry. But he said he was open to alternatives that create choices for consumers.