HENDERSON, Nev. - Days before hosting an intensive health care summit with both Republicans and Democrats, President Barack Obama made a fervent push for his overhaul, calling it critical not just for the millions without insurance but for the entire country's economic well-being.
"It is vital for our economy to change how health care works in this country," Obama said Friday at a town-hall meeting. "Don't let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country."
The president's plea for his top domestic priority, which faces an uncertain fate after nearly a year of work in Congress, earned him huge applause. He said the drawn-out effort has cost him politically, and also has undercut the standing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Obama was in Nevada to help the Senate leader survive a tough re-election fight this year - a race that could have a big impact on the balance of power in Washington and the fate of Obama's own proposals on health care and beyond. Obama needs to protect every vote he can in the Senate if his own agenda is to succeed.
"Health care has been knocking me around pretty good," Obama said. "It's been knocking Harry around pretty good."
But the president suggested that was due more to misinformation about the plans than to general unpopularity of the overhaul, and he defended the Democratic bills that have passed both houses of Congress, but have not been reconciled into one piece of legislation.
The president's bipartisan summit is being held Thursday. He dared Republicans to present a proposal addressing the uninsured and rising medical costs, rather than merely saying no to Democratic approaches.
But the summit approaches with hardly a feeling of cooperation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama and the Democrats are offering "a partisan bill devoid of support from the American people."
The Nevada appearance was billed as focusing on the economy but turned into an extended campaign plug for Reid, seen as one of nation's most vulnerable incumbents in the November elections. Reid introduced Obama and then sat behind him, basking in each applause line.
Obama wrapped his arms around Reid at the start of the event and embraced his work throughout. The president rarely missed a chance - on the economic stimulus plan, on health care, on the effort to regulate big banks - to put himself and Reid in the same sentence.