Did Obama's Speech Reframe Health Care Debate? Republicans spent much of the summer framing the health care overhaul debate in terms of big government versus small government — or even socialism versus liberty. In his speech to Congress Wednesday night, the president laid out what changes he wants to see to the health care system. Did the president succeed in reframing the debate?

Did Obama's Speech Reframe Health Care Debate?

Did Obama's Speech Reframe Health Care Debate?

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Republicans spent much of the summer framing the health care overhaul debate in terms of big government versus small government — or even socialism versus liberty. In his speech to Congress Wednesday night, the president laid out what changes he wants to see to the health care system. Did the president succeed in reframing the debate?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR news analyst Juan Williams is in our studios. He's been listening to David with us. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: As you know, well, from your coverage, politicians put grades on how they frame the choice, how they present the choice to people? And Republicans have framed this as a choice between big government versus small government; or even socialism versus liberty, freedom versus tyranny. Did the president redefine the choice here?

WILLIAMS: Well, he redefined it in this sense: he was speaking to Democrats on one level, and he clearly has energized them. That meeting that David was talking about, at the White House yesterday, was with 17 Democrats, some of whom were, I think, rightly described as centrists and skeptical. And the meeting was very positive.

And so for the White House, that was a clear signal that the speech had had positive impact. And you even hear people like Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, describing the speech as, for him, a game changer. That's pretty strong language. And, again, this is what's going on among Democrats.

More a sense of we are now committed to do something before the end of the year. And it's also given the White House a sense of momentum. This weekend they've got a rally planned for the president in Minnesota; he's going to go on "60 Minutes." So, there's a sense now that's he pushing back, that the conversation is not just about those things you were mentioning - death panels and rationing and socialism.

INSKEEP: Well, it's interesting that you mentioned that he's trying to get centrist Democrats onboard, because that does seem to be the way that he tried to frame the choice. Rather than an ideological question of big government versus small government, he spoke in terms of trying to solve practical problems.

Let's listen to the way that he spoke about the public option, a government-run insurance plan that some people could choose. He spoke of ending insurance company abuses and making coverage affordable.

Pres. OBAMA: The public option is only a means to that end. And we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

INSKEEP: But it's still a matter of intense debate. So, what's the end game? How do administration officials seem themselves getting passed this?

WILLIAMS: Well, what happened was, as a result of the speech, apparently, you're hearing more from Speaker of the House Pelosi, even people like Henry Waxman, who's the chairman of one the House committees, talk about being flexible now on the public option.

And so Democrats who were saying, you know what, we've got to have public option, don't give in to the right on this issue, are now more in line with this presidential viewpoint of don't get lost in the trees; see the forest, see the big picture.

And that's what he did. That's what he accomplished with the Democrats as well as potentially with independent voters out there who are going to speak to some of those centrist Democrats when they go home over the next few weeks.

INSKEEP: Of course, there's also the question of how to pay for the plan, which is something that Republicans are focused deeply on. Here's Congressman Charles Boustanny, who delivered the Republican response to the president's speech.

Representative CHARLES BOUSTANNY (Republican, Louisiana): In fact, it'll make health care much more expensive. That's not just my personal diagnosis as a doctor or a Republican, it's the conclusion of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

INSKEEP: And he's correct there. Some Democratic bills have fared very poorly before the Congressional Budget Office. But then Obama then gets on stage, the president gets on stage and says, anything I sign is not going to add a cent to the deficit. Did he manage to quiet to critics?

WILLIAMS: No. But what he did was, again, say to the audience - and, again, the audience is Democrats and, you know, independent voters out there, especially seniors, who are becoming more and more doubtful about this. They say, wait a second; this is going to be deficit-neutral. I'm not going to sign anything unless it's deficit-neutral. And he talked about a 2013 trigger. Unless it's deficit-neutral by 2013, we will not have this plan.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Juan, since the speech, radio talk shows have lit up, especially ones aimed at communities of color, about this remark by Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who shouted at the president at one point, you lie. Had to apologize later.

WILLIAMS: You know, it's about the president's authority and it becomes then about race, Steve. And I think it's very important to note that if you think about the birther movement - don't speak to our schools - it's all about is the president being disrespected at this point, his authority neglected?

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, regular guest here.

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