Seeking to shift the vitriolic and partisan tenor of the debate over healthcare reform to one of pragmatism and compromise, President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress Wednesday night to urge both Republicans and Democrats to deliver legislation that will provide access to affordable health insurance coverage for all.
In recent weeks, Obama has been accused of losing control of the message to opponents of reform who by most accounts did a masterful job during the August recess of working up voters into a fury over some of the proposals that are up for consideration, such as a public insurance option, and complete fabrications, such as death panels.
Much of what he said as he outlined his expectations he’s been saying for weeks. All individuals should be required to have a basic insurance package; the government should provide subsidies to those who cannot afford insurance; businesses will be required to provide coverage or chip in to help cover the cost; and there should be an exchange where individuals and small businesses can shop for competitively priced (affordable) plans. The president also expressed his support for a public option, stating that it would force private insurers to be competitive and “treat their customers better.” He did stress, however that a public option is only one part of his plan and warned lawmakers that it should not be used as a deal breaker.
“I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can’t find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need,” Obama said.
This will keep the left wing of his party in check for a while, predicts Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner. “He made the best case for the public option but signaled that he would be willing to give it up. He’s trying to have it both ways on that one, which is kind of where he has to be. He’s got to try to keep both [parties] at the table as long as possible and doesn’t want any side digging in their heels,” said Tanner.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, one of several Congressional Black Caucus members who are insisting on “a robust public plan,” didn’t lose hope.
“I’m going to look at the cup as being half full instead of half empty. The president has now put on public record that he’s supportive of the public option, he sees the value of it and obviously he’s leaving the details to us,” she said. “This is going to be a fight in the [Democratic] caucus. I think we should pass the strongest possible public option in the house. I don’t think we should yield on a strong public option from the beginning.”