President Obama has once again delivered a timeframe by which he would like to see Congress pass health reform, telling lawmakers that reform deserves an up or down vote “in the next few weeks.” Last year, Obama had asked Congress to deliver reform by August and then before the end of 2009, but his words did little to sway reluctant Democrats. This time, Obama again urged Congress to “get this done” without setting a firm deadline.
In today’s speech, Obama detailed Democrats’ efforts to reach out to Republicans on reform and characterized the final legislation as a bipartisan proposal that incorporates Republican ideas. “It incorporates the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans – including some of the ideas that Republicans offered during the health care summit, like funding state grants on medical malpractice reform and curbing waste, fraud, and abuse in the health care system,” Obama stressed.
The president stopped short of officially endorsing the reconciliation mechanism but fully committed himself to shepherding reform though the final stages of the legislative process:
We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for a year, but for decades. Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of sixty votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.
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. And I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well – every family, every business owner, every patient, every doctor, every nurse.
Obama positioned his plan as the middle of two ideological extremes. It’s a tactic he employed during the campaign, but his administration has spent little time explaining the more conservative ideas in the Democrats’ health care bills or stressing the GOP’s past support for large sections of “Obamacare.” The President returned to this frame today, saying, “On one end of the spectrum, there are some who have suggested scrapping our system of private insurance and replacing it with government-run health care…On the other end of the spectrum, there are those, including most Republicans in Congress, who believe the answer is to loosen regulations on the insurance industry.” “I disagree with that approach.”
On the process side, the President finally said what many progressives had urged him to say in the aftermath of the Massachusetts election: he took incremental reform off the table and laid out a roadmap for passing comprehensive reform in the near future (although some can certainly argue that the timeline was not detailed enough). Whether or not he acted too late, however, will have less to do with Obama and more to do with reluctant House members.