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Posted by on Sep 10, 2009 in Health, Politics | 13 comments

The Speech: Obama Defends Health-Care Reform Before Joint Session of Congress

It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but it was close… close enough, I suppose.

Alas, President Obama left open the possibility that his preferred public option — which, in my view, should be non-negotiable (see also Krugman on this) — could be replaced with some other alternative to private insurance, such as a non-profit co-op system or a “trigger” (which would kick in a public option were insurance companies unable or unwilling to provide adequate coverage), but at least he criticized the fearmongering “scare tactics” of the other side, emphasized choice and the need to regulate the insurance industry, and spoke directly not just to Congress but to the American people about his plan.

It was what needed to be done… and what needed to be said. Let it be the start of a new chapter in the fight for equitable health care in America. Let it be the start of a public awareness campaign to make sure that Americans understand the truth about the plan without being misled by the distortions of its opponents. Let it be the start of a concerted effort on the part of Democrats to pull together to get this done.

Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action.

Then go for it, Mr. President.

Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

Fine, but you do realize that the “best ideas” of the Republicans currently seem to involve lies and misrepresentations, right? Sure, I know there are some conservatives who do talk seriously about health-care reform, but the Republican Party is a party of obstructionism and opposition to reform. You may be able to work with one or two of them, or perhaps just one of them (Snowe), but that’s it. The point should not be to bring the two parties together, as if somehow a state of equality exists between them and what they espouse, but to bring Democrats together. (Ambinder thinks that Obama’s intended audience was “the 100 or so liberal Democrats who have threatened to oppose a bill that doesn’t include a public option,” and he may well be right. But I think he was also speaking to those who oppose the public option and are leaning Republican. Yes, he needs those liberal Dems, but, if somehow he ends up with what so many of us want, namely, a bill with a robust public option, he’ll also need some of the skeptics to come back into the fold.)

It’s time to deliver, yes, but it’s not time to compromise to the point where whatever bill is passed is so watered down that meaningful reform is avoided, and it’s certainly not time to agree to concessions just to win over a few Republicans. Ultimately, we may have to settle for an alternative to a public option, but, at this point, there is no reason not to push for more extensive reform.

Indeed, what Obama and the Democrats need to understand — and I realize this is hard for Democrats — is that they actually have the upper hand here, and that they need to take advantage of the historic opportunity that has been presented to them. They have one of their own in the White House to go along with two huge majorities in Congress. At long last, reform is there for the doing.

So do it.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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