Health Care Plays Supporting Role in State of the Union Speech
President Obama focused mainly on job creation during his State of the Union Address yesterday, but he also insisted that he would not give up on passing health care reform legislation, the New York Times reports (Pear/Herszenhorn, New York Times, 1/28).
Obama told Congress, "Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close," adding, "Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people" (Budoff Brown/Shiner, Politico, 1/27).
The president continued, "Democrats, I remind you we still have the largest majority in decades and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills" (Young, The Hill, 1/27).
Obama said, "[B]y now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics" (Politico, 1/27).
Obama also addressed growing criticism of health reform legislation. He said, "I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them."
He added that such communication issues, in addition to the opposition of special interests, are the reason for the delay in reform efforts, rather than flaws in Democratic proposals (New York Times, 1/28).
However, Obama did not offer a plan to restart the reform debate or guidance for how Democrats should reconcile differences between the House and Senate reform bills (HR 3962, HR 3590). He also did not present a timeline for an overhaul. According to Politico, Obama defended health reform legislation with many of the same arguments he has used for several months. Obama said an overhaul of the nation's health system would reduce the federal deficit, provide more security to U.S. residents, provide help to small-business owners and more tightly regulate the health insurance industry (Politico, 1/27).
Boehner Takes Up the Challenge
During the address, Obama said, "If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know."
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) immediately raised his hand (New York Times, 1/28). Boehner later said in a statement that it is "long past time for Democrats to start working with Republicans on common-sense solutions" to the nation's problems, including health care reform ("Political Ticker," CNN, 1/27).
In the GOP's response to the address, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said that all U.S. residents agree on the need for "affordable, accessible and high quality" health care, but they "do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government," Politico's "Live Pulse" reports.
McDonnell added, "Republicans in Congress have offered legislation to reform health care, without shifting Medicaid costs to the states, without cutting Medicare and without raising your taxes." He said the GOP can accomplish this by "letting families and businesses buy health insurance policies across state lines and ending frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up" health care costs (Frates , "Live Pulse," Politico, 1/27).
There was mixed response to the health reform sections of Obama's speech. Some Democrats said they believed that Obama established new momentum for health reform in his address.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said the speech was "the nudge we needed."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said, "What we needed to hear tonight is that [reform is] not off the table." She added that she believed that Obama, despite focusing on job creation, was "not reprioritizing" reform (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/27).
Some lawmakers had a different interpretation of Obama's call for Congress to re-evaluate current overhaul legislation.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said that Obama was telling lawmakers that it is "time to stop the gamesmanship and reach across the aisle and work together on this."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) considered Obama's comments a "challenge to Republicans" and another way of asking the GOP to produce its own reform bill.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she thought Obama expressed that lawmakers could pass a bill through varying means, such as through several smaller bills (Pierce, Roll Call, 1/28). Landrieu said, "It's very hard to see a path forward in the current arrangement" of a single overhaul bill (Frates , "Live Pulse," Politico, 1/27).
However, some Democrats still consider the reform effort stalled because Obama did not propose a clear path for moving forward with overhaul legislation.Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, "There still is the problem of the House trying to work [reform] out with the Senate," adding, "And nobody wants to blink" (Roll Call, 1/28). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.