After weeks of tumultuous town hall meetings and intense political lobbying, Congress and the President have returned to Washington to debate health care reform.
In an unprecedented move, last Wednesday night President Barack Obama used the bully pulpit of the White House to advance his health care agenda.
Speaking in front of a Joint Session of Congress and to the hearts and minds of Americans watching at home, Obama spelled out his plan and passionately hit back at his critics.
Obama laid out the reason why health care has grown to be such an issue of importance and identified the flaws in the current health insurance system.
He then proceeded to discuss the details of his $900 billion health care reform plan.
His two-part plan initially outlines what it will do for people who already have insurance coverage and secondly provides a means for those people without insurance to acquire affordable coverage.
As Obama said, his plan will give people currently with insurance “more security and stability.” It ensures that insurance companies will not be able to deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition, a practice known as underwriting which is expensive and adds to the cost of health insurance.
The insurance companies will also not be able to limit or drop coverage to citizens during times of sickness.
It also guarantees that insurance agencies provide free preventive care and services, a move that many health care experts predict could save money and bring down health care costs.
The second part of Obama’s plan is to offer quality and affordable choices to all Americans.
By setting up a type of health insurance exchange or “market place,” health care insurance options would be available to both individuals and businesses for purchase at competitive rates.
Obama said, “It’s how everyone in Congress gets affordable insurance.”
He also addressed the controversial issue of the public option by expressing his desire to have a public option but urged restraint on both sides of the aisle since this portion is not the essential issue of his plan.
Understanding the need to respond to false claims and assure people who were skeptical of reform, the President strongly proclaimed that notions of illegal immigrants being covered under his plan and the idea that abortions would be federally funded were completely false.
In regards to the concept of so called “death panels,” Obama called it “a lie, plain and simple.” Obama also spoke directly to two sections of the population concerned with potential reform: seniors and moderates, and conservatives worried about the deficit.
He vowed to “protect Medicare” and promised “not to sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.” In addition, Obama reached out to Republicans by accepting their idea to pursue malpractice and liability reform.
The President ended his speech by invoking the spirit of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy whose family was in attendance.
He read several excerpts of a letter written to Obama by Kennedy during the final months of Kennedy’s life before succumbing to brain cancer.
The mention of the Kennedy legacy and the letter was to express the fact that health care reform is a moral imperative.
According to Larry Schwab, a political science professor at John Carroll University, Obama’s speech “accomplished much of what he was trying to do and was a way to get back on the offensive after a summer in which conservatives got a lot of attention.”
Obama received numerous standing ovations during the roughly 45 minute speech and one vocal interruption. South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelled out “you lie!” during Obama’s explanation of coverage and illegal immigrants.
Wilson was quickly booed by Democrats and even scolded by his Republican colleagues. Senator John McCain, speaking to CNN, called Wilson’s actions “totally disrespectful.” Wilson later apologized.
Following the speech, Democrats and Republicans reacted accordingly. Little-known Republican Representative from Louisiana, Charles Boustany, gave the Republican response. He said, “it’s time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan.”
Meanwhile, progressives were elated with Obama’s speech and believed they saw the Obama they supported and elected as president. Ohio’s very own junior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, told MSNBC that it was the “best speech I’ve ever heard during a Joint Session.”
Moving forward, Obama may continue to meet with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, moderate Democrats, and perhaps a handful of Republicans in order to reach the magic number 60 votes in the Senate.
Although the status quo is hard to break away from, Obama has an opportunity to use the boost in public opinion support from the speech to finally get a health care reform bill passed.
As he emphatically stated to his colleagues as perhaps a rallying cry, “We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”