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Obama healthcare speech: What he needs to accomplish

In his speech Wednesday night, Obama has promised clarity on key issues and will try to regain control of the healthcare debate.

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President Barack Obama speaks during an Organizing for America national healthcare forum at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington August 20.

Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters

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After all the speeches and town hall meetings and press conferences and interviews, President Obama may appear to have exhausted his use of the bully pulpit on healthcare reform.

But by delivering a rare speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, Mr. Obama is demonstrating that he believes he can still shape debate – and public views.

Analysts expect Professor Obama to show up, the explainer-in-chief, not the fiery Candidate Obama who wowed the AFL-CIO picnic on Monday with his appeal to organized labor to help him enact health reform. The well of the House, after all, demands dignity, not rolled-up shirtsleeves.

But Obama knows he has lost momentum, and is fighting to get it back. In an interview with ABC-TV that aired Wednesday morning, he acknowledged that he has “probably left too much ambiguity out there, which allowed opponents to come in and fill up the airwaves with too much nonsense.”

Obama promised clarity in the speech, which begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time and will be shown on most major networks. “There are some principles that, if they are not embodied in the bill, I will not sign it,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts.

Addressing the public option

Asked for an example, he replied that the legislation must be paid for. Notably, he did not cite the controversial “public option” – the proposal for a new government-run insurance program meant to compete with private insurers – as an essential element.

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