This is the full video of the speech:
So I just watched Obama's address to Congress on the issue of health care reform, and I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring on the topics of the speech, it's effectiveness, and health care reform in general. This isn't meant to be a polished essay or a complete analysis by any means, only my reaction to one of the most important moments in Obama's young presidency and in the history of health care reform. I took a few pages of notes during the speech, so I think my summaries are fairly accurate. Also, I don't mean to dumb down the issues at all by providing pretty straightforward, perhaps inadequately supported commentary, but for the sake of time, and the realization that my opinion is marginally important, here goes. My goal in writing this is mainly to share my thoughts on the speech, and hear from others who've heard it. If you've watched the full speech, please feel free to comment- even if you think I'm completely wrong.
First off, I thought the President gave a fair and non-partisan summary of the problems we face in the current health care system. These issues of course include skyrocketing cost of coverage, decreasing quality of care, and the number of Americans being dropped from their coverage daily- I won't waste time detailing these issues, since they are thrown around pretty frequently, and are agreed upon by both Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, President Obama successfully articulated the clear and present need for health care reform of some sort in the US. We can not continue to do nothing.
Next, I thought Obama did a decent job emphasizing aspects of health care reform that are supported bipartisan. He mentioned previous attempts by members from both sides of the ideological aisle(ie John McCain Hillary Clinton, and Chuck Grassley's contributions, etc.). It was also very smart to begin with aspects that are supported bipartisan, basically indicating that the issues that unite us are greater than those that divide us. The President subdivided these reforms into 3 groups who would be affected: people with insurance; people without insurance; and people without insurance by choice. To cherrypick a few of these reforms, Obama called for: continued consumer choice of health care insurers/providers; no denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions; no rationing of care; and the "market exchange" concept. Again, I took a lot of notes on this part of the speech, but if you want to hear all the ideas stated you should probably just youtube the speech- there's no way I can summarize the President's speech better than he said it.
Here's the takeaway point, at least for me; the majority of the speech was spent outlining sensible, nonpartisan/bipartisan reforms that would drive down costs while increasing availability of coverage. Though more controversial aspects of reform(the public option) garnered murmurs and even boos, if you watch the video, there are many moments when the President received a standing ovation from congressional Republicans. I would argue that a major purpose of this speech was a call to action to members of Congress.
Obama also addressed a few of the controversies surrounding the health care debate. Being that the media focuses in on these controversies, I'm sure you've heard of them- death panels, health insurance to illegal immigrants, federal funding of abortions, and public option-caused government takeover of the private sector. Honestly, I didn't think he spent enough time addressing these concerns. While I don't believe most of them, a significant portion of Americans are legitimately afraid. I think the President could and should have done more to ease these fears(as evidenced when a GOP Representative from South Carolina shouted "it's a lie" at the President). Doing so may have lessened opposition across the country, and therefore better paved the road to reform..
Moving on to the public option, President Obama next attempted to explain the public option and how it would work. He claimed that a government-run insurance option would not derail the health insurance industry, but would force private companies to keep costs down in order to remain competitive. Also(and I didn't know this before), Obama cited a statistic that only about 5% of Americans would likely choose the public option. More importantly, he reminded the audience that a public option is not the cornerstone or driving force behind the reform movement, and should not be used as a wedge to change. I believe that if opposition to the public option strengthens, it will likely be dropped from the proposed legislation. Personally, I'm unsure of how I feel about the public option. Clearly, people have legitimate concerns regarding it, and I'll be the first to admit that I need to learn more about it before I form an opinion. Still, Obama was pretty successful in minimizing the perceived impact the public option would have on the US(as opposed to the destruction of liberty and a rapid descent into socialism).
And now, the question all of America has been asking- how do we pay for it?? Stating that the projected cost of reform would be $900 billion over the next 10 years, Obama pointed out that this would cost less than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Bush era tax cuts to the "wealthy." Put that way, and it doesn't seem like that much. But it's still 900 BILLION DOLLARS, an amount that can't even be fathomed, let alone dismissed. Obama claimed that this amount would be paid mainly by savings within the system decreases in waste(vague, I know), and keeping prices down through competition, fees to insurance companies for the most expensive practices, and efficiency in general. My hope is that specific, detailed areas of saving will be targeted and publicized over the coming weeks. Finally, Obama again stated that he would not sign a piece of legislation that would add a dime to the federal deficit; he believes that all future costs would be offset by a decrease in waste and fraud. Perhaps this is the "Read my lips, no new taxes" of Obama's presidency, but he was pretty clear. If he goes back on that, he can say goodbye to 2012. What I didn't know- Obama clearly said that the final legislation will include a provision that if health care adds to the deficit in any way, mandatory spending cuts in other areas of government expenditure would be enacted. I think that's a great idea.
I've heard a few people reject the President's address as typical empty words, devoid of legislative details and full of sh... something. Though I agree with them to some extent(on the lack of details), we have to consider that this address was not intended to completely and thoroughly explain the President' favored means of health care reform. Though some of us were left asking for clear policies, think about the millions of Americans who are less educated, less informed, or just plain less interested. This address was supposed to be a simple, utilitarian spark notes of health care reform, explained in terms easily understood by the common man. This address was basically meant to redefine the argument, to steer public discourse away from death panels and socialism/fascism and toward meaningful change. I truly believe that the President is reaching across the aisle, as shoving health care reform down America's throat without any Republican support would basically mean electoral death in both the midterms and a possible re-election bid. The reason he was scant on details is because the final legislation hasn't been written yet. He asked for input from all members of Congress, and he was very clear that he supports some Republican-favored ideas(ie tort reform). There's still time to have your voices heard, and frankly, I'd like to hear them.