Obama Explains the Financial and Moral Imperative for Health Care Reform

September 10, 2009

 

President Obama last night did what should have been done a month ago: He presented a clear, passionate case for health care reform that re-charged supporters, and he reached out to groups wary of reform efforts.

“I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last,” said Obama. “Our collective failure to meet this challenge – year after year, decade after decade – has led us to a breaking point.”

Now the question is whether the momentum will last.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post writes:

Seeking to appease independents worried that his agenda threatens a fiscal disaster for the country, he promised not to sign a bill that would increase the deficit. Addressing seniors, he looked directly into the cameras and vowed, “I will protect Medicare.”

Obama almost certainly will get a boost in the polls from Wednesday’s speech, as President Bill Clinton did when he gave a similar address to Congress in the fall of 1993. Obama’s key to success is to use the space created by this moment to drive Congress, particularly his Democratic allies, toward consensus and action. The longer the debate continues, the more his gains from the speech will dissipate.

The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel writes, “The speech still had a bipartisan flavor, but with a progressive spine.”

She continues:

Obama did not fully satisfy. The insurance exchange idea confused more than it clarified in explaining the role of the public option. Why will it take four years? Essentially, it’s a compromise because Congress doesn’t have the guts to raise money to do it more quickly. There may be some benefits up front, but there are still more questions than answers. What is clear is that the fight must still be waged to push through a public option — already a part of four of the five bills in Congress — if we’re to get an essential component of genuine and effective healthcare reform. After all, the public option is already a pragmatic all-American compromise (choice and competition). Medicare for All — or single-payer-was never on the table.

Here’s the full text of the president’s speech to Congress, and here’s the text of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s letter of support, which the president said he received after Kennedy’s death.

“[Y]ou have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country,” wrote Kennedy. “And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will — yes, we will — fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.”

[Side note: Sen. Tom Harkin has been selected to take Kennedy’s seat as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Harkin is a supporter of the public option.]

The White House website has published the details of Obama’s plan, breaking down what will happen if you already have health care coverage and what will happen if you don’t.

Following the speech, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked Jonathan Cohn, the author of “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis,” what he thought of the plans on the table.

“Do I wish the plans were better? Do I wish they looked more like a single-payer plan? Absolutely,” said Cohn. “Do  I think that what we’re talking about now will make a dramatic difference in people’ s live? Absolutely.”

The NYT posted some early reactions from healthcare policy experts.

Bonus: When Obama said undocumented immigrants would not be covered, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!,” prompting the head-turning shown at the top of this post. It was a moment that brought back all the heckling of the summer. But this time Democrats saw the opportunity and seized it.

Wilson is up for re-election this November, and ActBlue wasted no time in setting up a fundraising page for his opponent, Democrat Rob Miller, to defeat “the man who yelled ‘liar’ at Obama.” More than $45,000 has come in so far.

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