As expected, President Obama got up to the podium in the East Room today and made what sounded like a closing pitch for health care reform. "So this is our proposal. This is where we've ended up," he said.
He placed the burden squarely on Congress to take his new proposal, a modified version of the Senate blueprint that includes some Republican ideas: "[N]o matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform," he said, to applause; he posed the long process of drafting reform as a constructive one that has helped refine the proposals on the table--though Obama has taken some criticism for allowing that process to take as long as it did.
One Democrat with ties to House leadership groused, "Good speech. Seven months too late."
He closed by saying: "Let's get it done."
Here are some highlights from the president's remarks:
Democrats and Republicans agree that this is a serious problem for America. And we agree that if we do nothing - if we throw up our hands and walk away - it's a problem that will only grow worse. More Americans will lose their family's health insurance if they switch jobs or lose their job. More small businesses will be forced to choose between health care and hiring...
Essentially, my proposal would change three things about the current health care system:
First, it would end the worst practices of insurance companies. No longer would they be able to deny your coverage because of a pre-existing condition. No longer would they be able to drop your coverage because you got sick. No longer would they be able to force you to pay unlimited amounts of money out of your own pocket. No longer would they be able to arbitrarily and massively raise premiums like Anthem Blue Cross recently tried to do in California. Those practices would end.
Second, my proposal would give uninsured individuals and small business owners the same kind of choice of private health insurance that Members of Congress get for themselves. Because if it's good enough for Members of Congress, it's good enough for the people who pay their salaries. The reason federal employees get a good deal on health insurance is that we all participate in an insurance marketplace where insurance companies give better rates and coverage because we give them more customers. This is an idea that many Republicans have embraced in the past. And my proposal says that if you still can't afford the insurance in this new marketplace, we will offer you tax credits to do so - tax credits that add up to the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history. After all, the wealthiest among us can already buy the best insurance there is, and the least well-off are able to get coverage through Medicaid. But it's the middle-class that gets squeezed, and that's who we have to help.
Now, it's true that all of this will cost money - about $100 billion per year. But most of this comes from the nearly $2 trillion a year that America already spends on health care. It's just that right now, a lot of that money is being wasted or spent badly. With this plan, we're going to make sure the dollars we spend go toward making insurance more affordable and more secure. We're also going to eliminate wasteful taxpayer subsidies that currently go to insurance and pharmaceutical companies, set a new fee on insurance companies that stand to gain as millions of Americans are able to buy insurance, and make sure the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of Medicare.
The bottom line is, our proposal is paid for. And all new money generated in this plan would go back to small businesses and middle-class families who can't afford health insurance. It would lower prescription drug prices for seniors. And it would help train new doctors and nurses to provide care for American families.
Finally, my proposal would bring down the cost of health care for millions - families, businesses, and the federal government. We have now incorporated most of the serious ideas from across the political spectrum about how to contain the rising cost of health care - ideas that go after the waste and abuse in our system, especially in programs like Medicare. But we do this while protecting Medicare benefits, and extending the financial stability of the program by nearly a decade...
And those aren't my numbers - they are the savings determined by the CBO, which is the Washington acronym for the nonpartisan, independent referee of Congress...
I have therefore asked leaders in both of Houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks. From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform...
At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem. The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don't know how this plays politically, but I know it's right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law. Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody. Let's get it done.