WASHINGTON — President Obama, seeking to buttress his case for the kind of comprehensive health care overhaul that has eluded Washington for decades, said Thursday that the number of uninsured Americans rose by nearly 6 million as the recession intensified during the last 12 months.
On the morning after his blunt address on health care to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama addressed a group of nurses on the White House campus — and received the endorsement of their professional association, administration officials said. He used his brief appearance to reinforce Wednesday night’s message that his plan will bring “security and stability” to those who have insurance, and coverage to those who do not.
“Now is the time to act,” Mr. Obama said, “and I will not permit reform to be postponed or imperiled by the usual ideological diversions.”
The event marked the beginning of what the White House regards as the final, crucial phase of the health care debate, in which Mr. Obama will move aggressively to try to close the deal with lawmakers and the American public. The president intends to meet later Thursday at the White House with centrist Democrats, whose support is essential to passing legislation in the Senate.
Whether the president picked up any Republican support after his speech to Congress remained very much in doubt, with several prominent Republicans expressing deep reservations. “The math doesn’t add up and the record doesn’t add up,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said on NBC’s "Today" show.
“There is very little if anything in this package that calls for real spending reduction, and $1 trillion is basically what it’s going to cost,” Mr. McCain said.
House Republican leaders were also cool. Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the minority leader, said several of the president’s statements were debatable, including Mr. Obama’s insistence that his outline for change would not run up the deficit and would not lead to too much government involvement.
“We appreciated having the president here last night,” Mr. Boehner said. “Unfortunately, what the American people got wasn’t a new health care plan. It was just another lecture.”
And Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House minority whip, said it was less important to enact health care change quickly than it was “we get it done right.”
“There are many things we can work together on,” he said.On Saturday, the president will return to his bully pulpit, with a campaign-style rally in Minneapolis.
“Most Americans do have insurance and have never had less security and stability than they do right now,” Mr. Obama told the nurses, “because they’re subject to the whims of health insurance companies.”
The White House said Mr. Obama’s assertion that there are 6 million more unemployed Americans came from a new Gallup Survey that tracked changes in the number of uninsured between September 2008 and today.
The president also took the opportunity on Thursday to again denounce those who he said have been guilty of exaggerations, or outright untruths, through “chatter and the noise on radio and TV.”
But it was an outburst by Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, on Wednesday night during the president’s address that was still a hot topic at the Capitol on Thursday.
“You lie!” Mr. Wilson shouted as Mr. Obama said illegal immigrants would not be covered by any of the proposals making their way through Congress. Mr. Wilson apologized for his outburst, and the president said on Thursday that he had accepted Mr. Wilson’s expression of contrition.
“We all make mistakes,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Boehner said Mr. Wilson’s behavior had been “inappropriate,” and that he was glad Mr. Wilson apologized.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, agreed. “I think we ought to treat the president with respect,” he said, adding that anything else is inappropriate.
Mr. Wilson’s outburst also created trouble for Representative Charlie Wilson, an Ohio Democrat, who said on Thursday that he had received messages mistakenly criticizing him for attacking the president. The Wilsons are not related.
Mr. Obama vowed on Wednesday night to aggressively go after those who misrepresent what health care change is all about, and he said he would “not waste time” with those who have made a political calculation to oppose him. But he left the door open to working with Republicans to cut health costs and expand coverage to millions of Americans.
The White House offensive comes after a rocky August, in which many lawmakers held public meetings that deteriorated into shouting matches over health care.
The president placed a price tag on the plan of about $900 billion over 10 years, which he said was “less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” And he sought to reassure the elderly and the Americans who already have insurance that they would not be worse off.
As expected, Mr. Obama repeated his support for a government insurance plan to compete with the private sector, though he said he would consider alternatives to the “public option.”
He sketched out a vision for a plan in which it would be illegal for insurers to drop sick people or deny them coverage for pre-existing conditions, and in which every American would be required to carry health coverage, just as drivers must carry auto insurance.
Mr. Obama did embrace some fresh proposals. He announced a new initiative to create pilot projects intended to curb medical malpractice lawsuits, a cause important to physicians and Republicans.
He endorsed a plan, included in a proposal by Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to help pay for expanding coverage by taxing insurance companies that offer expensive, so-called gold-plated insurance plans. And the president promised to include a provision that “requires us to come forward with more spending cuts” if the savings he envisions do not materialize.
As Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor made clear on Thursday, Republicans are clearly primed for a fight; many, like Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who has been deeply involved in health negotiations, released statements about the speech even before it began. Mr. Grassley called on Mr. Obama to “start building the kind of legislation that could win the support of 70 to 80 senators,” a goal Mr. Grassley said could not be achieved if the bill contained a new government plan.
David Stout contributed reporting.