Declaring that the drive for health care reform is “in its final days,” President Barack Obama is trying to push legislation over the finish line by touting what he says is an unprecedented outpouring of bipartisan support from former Republican lawmakers and officials for an overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system.
“The historic movement to bring real, meaningful health insurance reform to the American people gathered momentum this week as we approach the final days of this debate,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly address aired on radio stations and posted on the Web. “The approach that is emerging includes the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats, and people across the political spectrum.”
Obama went on to note recent statements of support from Republicans including California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Senate majority leaders Bob Dole and Bill First, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent. The president also cited positive comments from Dr. Louis Sullivan, secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, and Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and HHS secretary under President George W. Bush.
“These distinguished leaders understand that health insurance reform isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution,” Obama said.
While the leaders Obama identified have all spoken out in favor of reform, most have not endorsed any of the specific bills pending in Congress. And some, even moderates like Schwarzenegger, have been sharply critical of aspects of some bills, such as the so-called public option.
“I would stay away from that as far as I can because government cannot run anything,” Schwarzenegger told CNN last week. “Government is not successful in anything that they do and therefore, don’t do it.”
Obama’s remarks were clearly intended to leverage the statements to get some movement from current Republican leaders and lawmakers, who have been almost universally opposed to Democratic-led health reform efforts.
“Still, there are some in Washington today who seem determined to play the same old partisan politics, working to score political points, even if it means burdening this country with an unsustainable status quo,” Obama said. “The distinguished former Congressional leaders who urged us to act on health insurance reform spoke of the historic moment at hand and reminded us that this moment will not soon come again. They called on members of both parties seize this opportunity to finally confront a problem that has plagued us for far too long.”
Obama also praised a Congressional analysis this week that found the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the health reform legislation would cost about $829 billion over ten years. That was a relief to the White House and other Democrats eager to bring a final bill in at no more than $900 billion.
However, it was notable that Obama omitted the CBO’s dollar figure—which could still sound to many Americans like a big pricetag.
“The Congressional Budget Office – an office that provides independent, nonpartisan analysis – concluded that the legislation would make coverage affordable for millions of Americans who don’t have it today,” Obama said. “It will bring greater security to Americans who have coverage, with new insurance protections. And, by attacking waste and fraud within the system, it will slow the growth in health care costs, without adding a dime to our deficits. This is another milestone on what has been a long, hard road toward health insurance reform.”
Obama closed his statement with an exhortation calling for national unity.
“Now is the time to come together as Americans. Now is the time to meet our responsibilities to ourselves and to our children, and secure a better, healthier future for generations to come,” he declared. “That future is within our grasp. So, let’s go finish the job.”