WASHINGTON (

TheStreet

) -- President Barack Obama said the changes he wants to make to reform health care reform would cost $900 billion over 10 years, a figure less "than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans" passed by the Bush administration.

In a televised speech Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, Obama said the "time for bickering is over," calling on Congress to act swiftly to enact health care legislation.

"Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action," Obama said. "Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care. "

Obama said a "public insurance" option for health care is still favored by a majority of Americans, but "its impact shouldn't be exaggerated ... . "It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. "

The so-called government option that Obama mentioned has been one of the most contentious issues in the heath care debate, with liberal Democrats supporting it and many moderates inside the party against it.

The president delivered his speech Wednesday as he and his allies in Congress plan a push on health care, his top domestic priority, this fall. But he will be up against strong opposition from Republicans, heated town hall meetings and sinking poll numbers.

A survey by

AP-GfK

released hours before the speech was delivered showed public disapproval of Obama's handling of health care has jumped to 52%, an increase of 9 percentage points since July.

in his speech, the president sought to cast his plan as being in the comfortable political middle, rejecting both the government-run system that some liberals favor and the Republican-backed approach under which all consumers would buy their own health insurance.

Obama said the legislation he seeks would guarantee insurance to consumers, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions, as well as other protections. He also said nothing in his plan for those already with insurance "will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have."

Obama also said the legislation he seeks would help those who lack insurance to afford it.

-- Reported by Joseph Woelfel in New York

.

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