President Obama's address to Congress
President Obama tells lawmakers to top playing "games", abandon partisan "scare tactics", and pass comprehensive health reform.
Listen to President Obama's speech by using the audio player at top of page.
Story by Melinda Wittstock, Bureau Chief, Capitol News Connection.
President Obama arrived on Capitol Hill with new resolve to combat what he characterized as political "games", partisan "bickering" and lies from a GOP determined to kill any chance of meaningful health reform.
"We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test," President Obama told a joint session of Congress.
"Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character."
The President arrived on Capitol Hill with a lot to accomplish: Selling a confused American public and his own divided party on the need for sweeping health care reform.
For months, the President had seemed "missing in action", admittedly creating a vacuum of competing bills that has allowed his hard-right GOP opponents to get the upper hand with claims of "death panels" and "government takeovers" throughout the August political heat. But last night he took the gloves off, and said he'd be "calling out" those spreading lies and misinformation about the reform effort.
"I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are," he told Congress. He said the "partisan spectacle ...only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government".
And as if on cue, Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted out "you lie!" to the President, putting in vivid relief the lack of civility and intense determination of the GOP to derail the effort.
Last night President Obama balanced clarity and detail with soaring oratory, and reached out to both sides of that bitter partisan divide in what many pundits this morning are saying was his best ever policy speech. For Republicans he spoke of tort reform and promised not to sign any bill that adds a dime to the deficit; for Democrats he talked of the need for the so-called 'public option', extending coverage to the uninsured, and consumer protections.
Mr. Obama said his plan would cost $900 billion over 10 years - less than the cost of the Iraq war or President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.
Even GOP members who vowed to kill reform at any cost were on their feet when the President said: "I will not sign a plan that adds 1 dime to our deficit now or in the future, period," reminding the nation of eight years of GOP spending bills that were "never paid for".
Step by step, he laid out what the plan will do - and what it won't do. It will not provide insurance for illegal immigrants, it will not "pull the plug on grandma". It will outlaw the private insurer practice of denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, it will allow consumers to shop around for better service and lower prices in an "insurance exchange" market, and it will require a health insurance mandate. Everyone will have to have health insurance, just like all drivers must have auto insurance.
But he made clear he did not want to put private insurers out of business: "They provide a legitimate service...I just want to hold them accountable."
President Obama says it is lack of competition that tempts private insurers to deny coverage, jack up prices and "treat customers badly". The so-called "public option" would just add consumer choice; no one would be forced to take it.
And then this bone for the GOP: "Many in this chamber - particularly on the Republican side of the aisle - have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine."
Instant polling immediately after the speech showed a large swing in support for President Obama, and today he will continue his drive to convince Congress to pass sweeping reform.
"I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now. Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.That is why we cannot fail."...
Created by Bureau Chief and Executive Producer Melinda Wittstock, Capitol News Connection from PRI provides insightful, localized coverage of participating stations' congressional delegations.