During last night’s address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama made one final effort to win-over Republican support for passing comprehensive health care reform by the end of the year. He repackaged his campaign health care plan into a smaller $900 billion package, embraced Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) high-risk pool proposal (sort of) and even opened the door to malpractice reform.
But Republicans, who successfully translated their flamboyant town hall tactics into the halls of Congress, managed to interpret the address as a “partisan pep rally”:
- Eric Cantor: Something that I was taken aback by was the partisan nature of the speech.
- Karl Rove: This was not an exceptionally good speech. It was gratuitous and bitterly partisan.
- Lindsey Graham: I quite frankly was offended by the whole tone. I thought it was a partisan pep rally instead of a chance to bring the country together.
Watch this very partisan video:
The Republican claim of ‘partisanship’ ignores Obama’s overtures and their own behavior during the speech (not to mention the hostility of the August town halls). At one point, Obama addressed the myth that his health care proposals would insure undocumented immigrants: “This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” In response, Republicans not only began booing him, but Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted out, “You lie.” As Matt Corley points out, according to The Hill’s Walter Alarkon, the only Republican senators seen standing and applauding Obama’s dismissal of the “death panel” myth were Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Judd Gregg (R-NH). “Four or five House Republicans also appeared to stand and applaud Obama’s remark, but it’s unclear which ones they were,” writes Alarkon.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) could also be seen wearing a homemade sign — similar to the ones seen at town hall protests — around his neck, which read, “What bill?” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported that “there was derisive laughter on that [Republican] side of the chamber when Obama noted that ‘there remain some significant details to be ironed out.’” Some Republicans “applauded as he spoke of ‘all the misinformation that’s been spread over the past few months.’” Others laughed again when he said that ‘many Americans have grown nervous about reform’ and shouted ‘shame!’ when Obama addressed the charge that he plans “panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.” “Shortly before the speech ended, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) walked out to beat the rush.”
On the whole, the president — who did endorse an employer mandate and an IMAC proposal — may have played it too safe. His speech reminded Americans that “concern and regard for the plight of others…is part of the American character” but it also demonstrated a willingness to compromise important progressive principles. He stressed that “the public option is only a means to that end” and even expressed some support for establishing “a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the [public plan] plan” or “triggering” a public option if private insurers were “not providing affordable policies.” “These are all constructive ideas worth exploring,” he said. He did not explain that a real robust plan that piggy backs off of Medicare’s infrastructure could save us somewhere between $75 billion and $150 billion over 10 years or help lower government subsidies in the Exchange. He committed to “choice” but failed to define it, stressed that insurance should be “affordable” but implicitly endorsed a package with lower subsidies.