WASHINGTON (CNN) - Key House Democrats continued to pound home the president's call for health care reform Thursday, hoping to convince a wavering public that change is necessary and to generate sorely needed momentum before the August congressional recess.
Representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus, voicing the concerns of President Barack Obama's liberal political base, predicted that inaction this year would have dire ramifications.
If we "fail to act now, we do so at the peril of the American people," warned Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, at a Capitol Hill news conference.
"The American taxpayer will continue to suffer from the economic consequences of absorbing health care costs that are spiraling out of control. We must act because the quality of life of millions of Americans and the health of our economy really hang in the balance."
Several Black Caucus representatives have insisted the health reform plan as currently drafted is affordable, drawing a sharp contrast with more fiscally conservative Democrats who have voiced cost concerns.
Lee echoed Obama's remarks from a prime time-news conference Tuesday night, in which the president repeatedly emphasized that the spiraling costs of the current system would bankrupt the nation while denying coverage to millions more Americans.
"Even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before - and health insurance reform is central to that effort," Obama said, adding that failure to control rising health costs would mean inability to control the federal deficit.
"These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now," he said.
The president is slated to take his reform pitch to Ohio Thursday afternoon, touring the Cleveland Clinic - a hospital he has repeatedly praised as a model of high-quality, low-cost care - and hosting a town hall meeting in Shaker Heights.
Bills considered so far by House and Senate committees include Democratic proposals for a government-funded public health insurance option, mandates for people to be insured and employers to provide coverage, and an end to lack of coverage due to a pre-existing condition.
Republicans oppose a government-funded option and any requirement for employers to provide coverage. They also call for limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, which Democrats don't favor, along with a number of provisions contained in the Democratic bills, including increased efficiency in Medicare and Medicaid and a focus on preventive health programs.
Republican opponents of the Democratic plans said Wednesday that most Americans like the current system, which they said must be made less expensive and more accessible.
"What we do think is that we ought to target the problems, and there are ways to do that on a bipartisan basis," argued Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
Obama and Democratic leaders say the problems are deeper and systemic, with spiraling costs that eventually will bankrupt the country and with 12,000 people a day being added to the current figure of 46 million without health insurance.
The president wants both the House and Senate to pass bills before going on their August recess, but that timetable appears unlikely due to the fierce Republican opposition coupled with the cost concerns cited by fiscally conservative Democrats.
A CNN "Poll of Polls" released Wednesday indicated that less than half of Americans now approve of how Obama is handling the issue. It shows 47 percent of Americans approve of how the president is dealing with health care reform, while 44 percent disapprove.
The CNN Poll of Polls is an average of the three most recent national surveys to ask about Obama's performance on health care: USA Today/Gallup (July
17-19); ABC/Washington Post (July 15-18) and CBS News (July 9-12).
A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted late last month found 95 percent of those questioned favored at least some reform of the U.S. health care system. But while 55 percent favored "a great deal of reform," 40 percent said the system needs "only some reform."
The poll, conducted June 26-28, had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.