AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is calling on lawmakers to enact a national health care system.

Sweeney said that if he were President Bush, he would raise the topic next week during the State of the Union speech.

“I’d challenge Congress to quit stalling and pass universal health coverage this year so our workers can live secure lives and our corporations can compete in the global marketplace,” Sweeney said Wednesday during a speech at the National Press Club.

Bush probably will not issue any such challenge, but “we do expect more from our elected leaders in Congress, and we’re going to demand it,” Sweeney said. “We also know we have to expect more and demand more from ourselves. And we know that to change the course of our country, we not only have to think outside the box of corporate control our nation has been trapped in, we have to get rid of the box.”

Sweeney described the successful effort to persuade Maryland lawmakers to overturn their governor’s veto of a “fair share” health bill as the “first crisp punch” in the health care fight.

Fair share health bills require large employers to provide health coverage or else contribute to Medicaid or a program for workers without employer-sponsored health coverage.

“You saw the first crisp punch in that fight when we overrode Governor Ehrlich’s veto of our ‘Fair Share’ health care legislation in Maryland,” Sweeney said.

“We’ve decided to break free from the gridlock of Washington and the hammerlock of national corporate health care lobbyists by launching ‘fair share’ campaigns in more than 30 states,” Sweeney said. “We need a simple national health care plan that covers everybody. The failure of Bush’s complicated Medicare prescription drug benefit demonstrates that. But if they won’t give us a fair health plan covering all families in all 50 states, we will give them hell in all 50 states.”

Sweeney also took on the issue of pension reform and the increasing number of companies abandoning their defined benefit pension programs.

“If I were president, I would expose the 150 major U.S. corporations that are using the bankruptcy courts to abandon their commitments to provide guaranteed pensions to the workers who have enabled them to grow and profit,” Sweeney said.