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Shields, Brooks Reflect on Health Care Speech, Reform Push

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the week's news, including President Obama's health care speech and renewed reform push.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Mark, did the president's speech change the debate in any important way?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Yes, it did, Jim. First of all, it's reclaimed the terms of the debate from what happened in August. He has established ownership, admitted that he owned a plan…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    "My plan."

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … "my plan." He got specific. And for the Democrats, who were somewhat — who were with him but had some doubts, he gave an energy to it, a sense of urgency, and a passion that replaced an earlier coolness and an earlier vagueness.

    And I would say, the most important thing he did, in terms of the country, in reaching the country, is he did establish that this was a moral issue. And he reclaimed that.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And you think people bought that?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I do. I think it's a different way of looking at it. Instead of simply asking, "What's in it for me?" he said, "What's in it for us as a people?" And we, in fact, as a communal nation value justice. And I think that's an important value, and I think it's important politically to have that high moral ground.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you think it's changed things, David?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    I do. I think he's actually moved votes. You take just one case, a guy named Jim Cooper, who's a moderate Democrat from Tennessee, who's been very active in health care for 20 years. He had opposed the House plan that had come out of the — or was coming out of the House, and he'd written publicly about why he opposed it.

    I called him the day after Obama's speech, and he was very excited. He thought the president had made real progress in allaying a lot of his concerns and adjusting some of the policies so it would be fiscally responsible, so it would address things.

    And so he and I think a lot of the Blue Dogs, the moderate Democrats, I think were quite pleased. And so the president really secured that part of the party.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Do you think he's won any support among Republicans or changed or softened the opposition in any way?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Not yet. But, you know, it's possible he could get a few in the Senate. I say it for this reason. You know, to me, the key part of the speech was where he said, "I will not allow this to increase the deficits by one dime, now and forever."

    Now, to get to that deficit neutrality level, the House bill pretty much goes away, because that just blows a hole in the deficit. You start with the Senate bill. But then you've still got to make some changes to bring it within that cost structure.

    And that means a whole series of concessions, I think, on the employer tax exemption, maybe even on Medicare — I mean, on malpractice. And so if there's movement over the next couple of weeks, it's possible you could pick up a couple of Republicans, George Voinovich or Susan Collins, a few. You're not going to get a lot, in any case.

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