Thursday, September 10, 2009

We did not come here to fear the future, we came here to shape it

Live-blogging Obama's address to Congress on health care reform.

I'm watching the president give his address on CNN.    Obama's remarks in bold; my comments in regular font.   Pelosi introduces Obama.

Thank you.   When I spoke last winter, worst economic crisis losing 700,000 jobs a month.   Still losing jobs.  I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them.  He has got his priorities straight.  Until businesses that seek capital  can thrive, until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes.   And those responsible bankers?  Silence on that point.

. . . .  It has now been nearly a century since T. Roosevelt called for health care reform.   (Gives history....)  Americans -- middle class -- one accident away from losing home; many denied by insurance companies; We are the only Advanced Democracy that allows such hardship for its citizens.    30 million affected.  Not just problem for uninsured.  Worry that if you change your job you will lose coverage.   Happens every day.    One man lost coverage in the middle of chemotherapy when coverage canceled.  Died.  A  breast cancer patient had her coverage denied (for silly reason).   This is good.   He's reminding people of the horror stories.

Insurance premiums have gone up 3 times faster than wages.  If  we do nothing, will end up spending more on healthcare than any other govt program.

Question is how?  Those on left, think only way is to have system-wide (universal) coverage.  On the right, end employer based systems, leave individuals.  Either one would represent a radical shift.  Makes  more sense to  build on  what works.   This is classic "Obama Philosophy," but it's notable that Obama has framed the arguments more favorably for the left than he had earlier in August.   This time he equated the the "far left" with Universal Coverage.  Back in August Obama had equated those favoring the Public Option with the far left.  Yet the public option is a fairly centrist position, a compromise -- at least from the perspective of anyone who favors Universal Coverage.  

Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change existing coverage. What plan will do:  "As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most."  

"No one should go broke because they get sick."

"If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage," Obama will say. "If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage."  "Strike out on your own to start a small business, you can get coverage."

Speaking to those who don't already have coverage, Obama will say his plan calls for a new "insurance exchange," to allow individuals in small business to shop for health insurance at competitive rates.  A brilliant idea?  A new trading scheme people in the financial industry will profit from?  Details.

We pay for emergency room visits anyway.... 

 You will be required to carry basic health insurance, just like auto insurance.   Businesses will be required to offer it, or chip in to help Americans cover it.   I don't like this at all.   Still nothing about a public option, and requirement to buy insurance industry's products.

While still details to get worked out.  (Laughter).  Requirement for those who can afford insurance to get coverage. 

Obama adresses myths.  "Reforms would not apply to those who are here illegally"  (Hooting from audience.)  Odious spectacle. Disgusting. "Government take-over of entire health care system....?"  "Let me set the record straight: consumers do better when there is choice and competition."  Unfortunately in 34 states (little competition) so incentive to abuse customers.  "Executives don't do this because bad people, they do it because it is profitable." Key point, it's the profit-motive that's inherent in the system, not greedy individuals.

The reforms that I've just mentioned would do that, but an addition measure that would do that would be a not-for-profit public option.  Loud applause from Democrats.   Only an option for uninsured, not mandatory.   Taxpayers won't subsidize this.  Has to be self-sufficient, relying on premiums it collects.   Avoids overhead and need to make profit, so could be good deal for consumers.   Just as we have public universities and private universities, we can have the public and private options coexist in health care.  This is a great slogan, I'm glad he used it.  Still neither side should over-emphasize the importance of the public option.  OK up until this point, then why must he start to equivocate?   Obama would preserve his freedom to drop the public option.   Essentially, Obama calls stuff that's important to a lot of Democrats not that important.    Republicans don't use this language when talking about points that are important to the base.

I will not back down on the basic principle that if you cannot find coverage, we will provide you with a choice.  Good!  Very strong!  Finally Obama draws a line in the sand.   And make sure no insurance ?? gets between you and the coverage you need.

Iwill not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future.   Obama mentions that during the Bush era, wars  and tax cuts were not paid for.   I'm glad he pointed this out.

Seniors need not worry.  Notes that seniors have been subjected to campaign of lies and distortions.  We won't use Medicare funds to pay for this new program. Don't pay attention to those people scaring you, some of whom wanted to privatize medicare.  Don't worry, I will protect medicare."

Will help bring down the costs of healthcare. 

Now this is the plan I'm proposing.  If you come to me with serious proposals, my door is open, but I won't waste time with people who say it's better politics to kill plan than keep it.  Mainly a threat directed at Democrats threatening not to back a plan that doesn't include the public option?  Or mainly a threat to blue dogs who don't want a public option? If you misrepresent what's in this plan, we will call you out.  (Applause) I will not accept status-quo as a solution.

Quotes Ted Kennedy:  ".... The character of our country."  Self-reliance, fierce defense of freedom,  figuring out proper role of government always central.   Repubs. John McCain, Owen Hatch worked with Kennedy to provide care to the weak; Kennedy had 2 kids with cancer, so could imagine what like to not have insurance.  Good story.  This concern for the plight of other is not a Democrat or a Republican trait.  An acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in.  Social Security.  Medicare.  Medicaid.   Monopolies can stifle competition. 

When any efforts to help people in need attacked; when we can't have civil debate, that's the worst thing. Great line, I should get the exact quote. 

Update, here is the exact wording of this passage which reads so true (from here):
And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.
"We did not come here to fear the future, we came here to shape it."  Great line.*   I still believe we can ....  That is our calling...  That is our character.

The strength of Obama's speech was that he did not make it make it mainly about cutting costs.  (I'm listening to the Republican response, and that's their main point).

Obama delivered a speech that was largely about values.  Obama presented an expanded vision of American values; it includes concern for others, it affirms a constructive role for government in protecting the weak and ensuring fairness.  Obama explained that this tradition is as much a part of American heritage as free enterprise and individualism. By aligning his health care initiative with American values, Obama may have successfully shifted the discussion tonight from one that had been mainly about people's fears to one centered on peoples' hopes and aspirations.  Obama was also correct to warn the country about the dangers of allowing intolerance and negativity to poison the debate.  Although we don't know what will come of this approach, it matters that Obama has attempted to re-frame the discussion.

Some past posts about the US health care debate:
"We did not come here to fear the future, we came here to shape it." Others have commented on this line as well, and it may give rise to yet another right-wing conspiracy theory about Obama. "Glenn Beck [outrageous Fox News commentator] will love this" noted BBC's Mark Mandell referring to the line in his own live-blog.  Ali Eteraz of True Slant explains the Karl Marx reference:
  ... to me, at the end of his healthcare speech, Obama just evoked one of the most famous of Karl Marx’s phrases. . . . Sayeth Marx in Theses on Feurebach: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.'  Again, not equating Obama with socialism — that would be foolish — but the linguistic formulation is similar, especially because when Obama verbalized those two sentences he said them as if there were a semi-colon between them, not a period.   
As you can see from my own jot, I heard it with a comma.  Nevertheless, the Obama line does not strike me as sounding particularly similar to the Marx quotation.  Of course,  if it's possible to spin it that "Obama was channeling Karl Marx," someone at Fox News is sure to run with it.  (Speaking of which, I just watched Hannity of Fox News say to a guest on his program: "What do you think about the fact Obama called insurance company CEOs 'bad people' in his speech?"  Actually, Obama said the exact opposite:  "Executives don't do this because they are bad people, they do it because it is profitable.")

Update: In his July 4th radio address the president said, "We are not a people who fear the future. We are a people who make it."

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