Health reform, a big part of the president’s campaign platform, is about to enter a new stage of debate as the Democratic-controlled Congress returns from its summer recess.
Mr. Obama has asked Congress to deliver reform legislation that expands the amount of Americans insured and enacts certain regulations on the insurance industry by the end of the year.
After a summer filled with town hall protests where some citizens angrily demonstrated against the reform plans and complex negotiations among different factions in the Democratic and Republican parties, Mr. Obama and his aides are now signaling that they want to better define the president’s reform agenda.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod told Politico that it is time for the White House and Congress to work together to get a reform bill passed. “We’re confident that we can do that. But obviously it is a different phase. We’re going to approach it in a different way. The president is going to be very active,” he said.
Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report said the president has waited too long to take the lead in a debate.
“My immediately reaction was ‘finally…finally he decided to do something,’” Rothenberg said.
Rothenberg said the Obama administration should have gotten behind a solid legislative agenda earlier.
“The White House deserves criticism for its handling of the overall issue. (The speech) does not correct the mistake it seems to me.”
Although the contents of the speech aren’t available yet, the president is expected to more clearly outline his priorities for reform legislation, which right now is comprised of several different versions floating in House and Senate committees.
The president also received criticism from liberals lately that he isn’t standing up enough for strong reform legislation, including a public insurance option that would compete with private health insurance companies.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who supports major health insurance reform and a public plan, said that the White House needs to shift the debate back to fixing the health care system.
“The biggest problem the supporters of reform have is that early on, the argument was about what is wrong (with the health care system)and how to fix it.” Dionne said.
“The last month and a half the argument has become – I don’t like what I have but I am afraid of losing what I have.”
Dionne said the president needs to tell Congress that no one should go bankrupt because of health problems, be denied insurance because of a preexisting condition and that he supports a system where all Americans can have decent health insurance.
House GOP leader John Boehner said many Republicans remain skeptical of the president’s vision for reform.
“House Republicans want to hear what the president has to say, but after the public outcry this August, it’s clear the American people don’t want a new speech. They want a new plan,” the Times quoted him as saying.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the New York Times that the president will be “more prescriptive than he has been to date” in the speech. “We have a tremendous amount of consensus in Congress to build off of,” he said.
While major principles of Mr. Obama’s health care goals are agreed upon in Congress, the public option policy could make final bill negotiations difficult.
While Republican leaders are not on board with the current reform bills, there may not be enough Democrats in the U.S. Senate willing to support a public option – something more liberal Democrats must be in any reform legislation.
“I don’t think that they can get full-blown public option through.The best scenario for the president is, maybe he talks about a bill as a first step,” Rothenberg said.
“I think he ought to define a cooperative plan as a dramatic event to move health care reform along and I think he can probably get something like that.”