Thursday January 28, 2010

‘Let’s Get it Done’: Obama Digs in on Health Care in State of the Union Address

By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2010 ( – In his first State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama did not shirk from issuing a stubborn push for his top domestic priority – the struggling health care overhaul.

“Here’s what I ask Congress, though: Don’t walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done,” said Obama, to cheers from Democrats in the chamber.

Liberal groups had hoped to hear firm support for the reform effort that would unleash federal funds for abortion and abortion providers. Planned Parenthood, which has been hit hard by the economic downturn, has lobbied aggressively for the bill to go through without Hyde-amendment restrictions on abortion funding.

But ever since Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts robbed Senate Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority last Tuesday, Democrats have been at a loss on how to push the massive reform effort past the GOP. The Massachusetts loss was widely interpreted not only as signaling deep national dissatisfaction with the overhaul, but also as a warning shot to pro-health care Democrats as they face their own re-election battles in November. Accordingly, some experts expected Obama to slim down his enthusiasm for the measure.

Instead, Obama’s tone was unyielding. At the same time, the president was unclear as to how the Democrats might actually pass the reform, saying simply that Congress “should not walk away from” health care reform. Obama also apologized “for not explaining [the health care bill] more clearly to the American people” – an apparent nod to the dismal approval ratings the measure has suffered in national polls.

Though there is no clear path for the bill’s success, congressional leaders also have not softened their stance. In an interview with Politico, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday indicated that House Democrats would be open to passing the health care overhaul in a two-part process that would circumvent a GOP filibuster. “We have to get it done,” said Pelosi. “What the process is doesn’t matter.”

Later in the speech, Obama elicited a murmur from Republicans when he claimed his administration has “excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs, or seats on federal boards and commissions.” However, while the Obama administration has purported to have in place a ban on hiring lobbyists, the ban has been “waived” for at least twelve lobbyists, seven of whom now occupy key posts in the White House.

The party-line rift scarring Capitol Hill was starkly visible throughout Obama’s speech. After months of Democrats shutting frustrated Republicans out of negotiations on the health care overhaul, GOP members often sat motionless as wild cheers erupted from Democrats affirming Obama’s fact claims and policy goals.

The president took the opportunity to cast himself as a peacemaker battling entrenched hostilities, and to chastise Republicans for standing their ground against the president’s far-left policies.

“Now, I’m not naïve,” he said. “I never thought that the mere fact of my election would usher in peace and harmony – and some post-partisan era. … To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town – a supermajority – then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.”

The president also shook his finger at those who wage “a perpetual campaign” in Washington – days after the White House brought in Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, to retool the president’s message on health care.

Newly-installed Virginia governor Bob McDonnell issued the Republicans’ response to Obama immediately after the address. McDonnell criticized the administration’s large-scale government expansion and called for more power to be given to local levels of government.

“Today, the federal government is simply trying to do too much,” said McDonnell. “Without reform, the excessive growth of government threatens our very liberty and prosperity.”

McDonnell also criticized the Democrats’ health care overhaul, saying: “All Americans agree, we need a health care system that is affordable, accessible, and high quality. But most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government.”

Republicans have offered their own ideas for health care reform, noted McDonnell, “And our solutions aren’t thousand-page bills that no one has fully read, after being crafted behind closed doors with special interests.”

McDonnell also appeared to take a jab at the administration’s deeply pro-abortion agenda, saying that “America must always be a land where liberty and property are valued and respected, and innocent human life is protected.”