Obama Pushes for Health and Energy Reform

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President Barack Obama discusses the uprising in Iran during his opening remarks at a White House press conference. (Source: White House)

For the past few weeks, President Barack Obama has received varying degrees of criticism and support on three major issues—Iran, energy, and healthcare reform. Today, at a White House press conference, he addressed each issue, making it clear that while he’s willing to be flexible, there are some areas in which he’s ultimately the decider, or as he more diplomatically put it, “the only president of the United States.”

Recently, several Republican lawmakers—Obama’s former campaign rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in particular—have charged that the president’s response to Iran’s presidential election and the ensuing protests and violence has been too tepid.

Today Obama sharpened his rhetoric on the issue but also stood firm on his decision to not interfere in that country’s affairs. “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost,” Obama said in his opening remarks.

He added that while he shares the desire for justice in Iran, “ … Only I’m the president of the United States, and I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security advances and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.” He said that his response has been consistent and that it is too early to intervene because doing so would only provide an unnecessary distraction from the situation. The president also stressed the importance of Iran conforming to international norms and principles, which could help heal 30 years of wounds between the two nations.

On energy, Obama noted that the U.S. House of Representatives plans to move forward this week with “historic legislation that will transform the way we produce energy in America.” According to the president, the legislation will help reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, decrease carbon pollution, and spur the development of new technology that will, in turn, lead to new industries and jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.

“The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century’s global economy. That’s what this legislation seeks to achieve,” he said, and urged members of Congress to pass it.

Healthcare is perhaps the most important of the three issues for the president because there are so many competing interests and opinions on how best to reform it that they threaten to derail his deadline for legislation to be passed this year. In fact, some pundits believe that if a healthcare reform bill is not passed this year, it won’t happen at all.

“There’s no doubt that we must preserve what’s best about our healthcare system, and that means allowing Americans who like their doctor and their healthcare plans to keep them,” said Obama. “But unless we fix what’s broken in our current system, everyone’s healthcare will be in jeopardy. Unless we act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, and the rolls of the uninsured will swell to include millions more Americans.”

One sore point of contention is whether there should be a public health option. Some lawmakers have said it will cost too much and that government will determine the quality and level of an individual’s healthcare based on bureaucratic decisions rather than what’s best for the patient. Insurance companies have complained that a public option will put them out of business.

In response to his critics regarding a projected trillion-dollar price tag for reform, Obama said it will largely be funded through the reallocation of money that’s already being spent but not spent wisely, controlling administrative and other costs, and improving practices through such things as health IT and preventative medicine. If health insurance companies follow suit, he added, being driven out of business shouldn’t be a concern, the president contended.

“I think that there is a legitimate concern—if the public plan was simply eating off the taxpayer trough—that it would be hard for private insurers to compete,” Obama said. “If, on the other hand, the public plan is structured in such a way that they’ve got to collect premiums and they’ve got to provide good services, then if what the insurance companies are saying is true—that they’re doing their best to serve their customers, that they’re in the business of keeping people well and giving them security when they get sick—they should be able to compete.

Lawmakers are still in the early stages of debate over what shape the healthcare legislation will take, but Obama said that, cost concerns aside, providing coverage for the uninsured and underinsured is “wise policy and the right thing to do.”

Obama also pointed out how resilient and optimistic Americans have been during such a tough economic period, making it all the more important for his legislative priorities to be passed. Jumpstarting the economy with initiatives such as his stimulus plan help in the short term, he added, but his energy and healthcare reforms will provide a foundation for long-term economic growth.

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