President Obama kicked off the beginning of the endgame on health overhaul this afternoon in a White House speech intended to galvanize Democrats to action.
President Obama said it was high time for a decision on health care overhaul during a speech at the White House.
The status quo is unacceptable, he said, in a midday speech in the East Room. The cost of health coverage is too steep for individuals, businesses and the government. Too many Americans lack insurance. Even those people with coverage worry that insurers could drop them or raise prices to the point that policies become unaffordable.
"Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just about everyone has said it," the president said. "So now is the time to make a decision about how to finally reform health care so that it works, not just for the insurance companies, but for America's families and businesses."
He affirmed a three-pronged approach. (Read the full text of the speech here.)
For starters, he outlined reforms to the system of health insurance that will give consumers more control by ending such practices as denial of coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions and exorbitant rate hikes.
Second, individuals and small businesses would get access to insurance through marketplaces that would give buyers more leverage and choice. For those people who have trouble affording coverage, the government would offer tax credits to help.
Third, he said his plan would attack health costs, bringing down the cost of insurance and also rooting out waste and abuse.
Most of the speech reflected well-worn themes. But Obama said the proposal reflected ideas from both parties and rejected some of the special deals cut to win votes for the legislation that has passed the House and Senate.
He also said that the proposed overhaul would reduce the federal deficit by about $1 trillion over the next 20 years.
The time for debate and discussion is over, he said, and now it's time for an "up-or-down vote," a call that underscored Democrats' plans to proceed with health overhaul by budget reconciliation. He pressed Congress to "schedule a vote in the next few weeks."
He concluded by saying, "I intend to provide the leadership. I don't know how this plays politically, but I know it's right."
The content of Obama's speech was such a forgone conclusion that Republicans didn't bother to hear it before responding. Instead, they came out in the morning with what's become known in Washington as "prebuttals."
"It's pretty clear that the Obama Administration and my colleagues in Congress are going to continue on their march to shove this government-run health care plan down the throats of the American people," House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, said Wednesday morning. "You can't add a couple of Republican sprinkles on the top of a 2,700-page bill and claim that it's bipartisan," he added, referring to the President's inclusion of several GOP ideas gleaned from last week's day-long meeting at Blair House.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky delivered a similar message on the Senate floor, "Americans don't want us to tack a few good ideas onto a bill that reshapes one-sixth of the economy, vastly expands the role of government, and which raises taxes and cuts Medicare to pay for all of it."
But the fact is the president is no long courting Republicans, and he hasn't for weeks now. He's adding Republican proposals to show the American public — and moderate Democrats—that the legislation is not, as one Republican commentator described it, a "collectivist health-reform agenda."
In fact, from here on out, the fate of the health overhaul will be determined less by the president, and more by a couple of dozen back-bench House members whose votes are needed to pass the Senate bill.
While Obama signaled that the budget reconciliation process is the process for passing a revised overhaul in the Senate with only 51 votes, there is still the considerable tack of getting the House to first pass that existing, unpopular Senate bill. That will take 216 votes, and those votes may be very hard to come by.