THE SPEECH: I thought, in many ways, the speech was extraordinary. He was much more combative than I thought, he had me on the edge of my seat. He fought back so hard against the lies and idiocy that have dominated the debate in the past month. He did so directly, looking straight into the eyes of the American people. He reminded us why we’re doing this, with personal stories, strong emotion, and forceful persuasion. He also explained every provision more clearly than he ever had. Polling has indicated, quite clearly, that the American people actually know very little about what's in these proposals. They hear a lot of terms thrown around, but don't know exactly how the bills will impact their lives. Imagine not having paid attention at all to the health care debate until now, and suddenly you hear that it will be illegal to drop your coverage if you get sick, or to deny you care if you have a preexisting condition. He also gave an impassioned defense of the public option, but also added some perspective that changed the way I, and I suspect other progressives, might feel. The public option is a means to the end of giving people high quality health care at prices that they can afford. We need to focus on achieving that goal. The public option is the only plan I've heard thus far that I think will fully achieve this goal, but the public option itself is not what this debate is about.
I thought the end of the speech was particularly heartening. While referencing the beautiful letter Senator Kennedy wrote him this past May. Obama gave an impassioned defense of liberalism and the role of government to ensure social justice. As Chris Matthews might say, it really sent a thrill up my leg. It reminded me why I was such an enthusiastic supporter of his, and brought back the feelings I had on November 4th and January 20th.
There was a little triangulation, which I don’t mind. He didn’t attack the merits of single payer, he just said it isn’t feasible to change the whole system that radically, which I somewhat agree with. He also threw a bone on Medical Malpractice reform, which is one of the few Republican positions I’m even somewhat sympathetic to (though I agree with Obama that it is in no way a silver bullet.) Overall, a deeply staunch, moving speech. Here's The Big Picture's take:
I still would have liked more outside-the-box thinking, because to a lot of people I still think it's just him up there giving a speech, the words blend together, hard to focus...I think faces, names, charts, anything visual and compelling is much more arresting. I would have liked real people up there, real names, maybe some video - would have broke with tradition, but that would be good. Well there's still time to do that this week, the next week. Very crucial to build off this speech, can't just sit back, need to use this as a spur to ACTION!
I don't quite agree with The Big Picture in this last paragraph. Part of what I think made the speech so strong was that there were no gimmicks, no games and no political antic. The President showed the American who was the mature adult, in charge of leading this country. I think it was important for the President to regain trust from the American people that he knows what he's doing.
The effort was enhanced, of course, by shockingly immature Republican behavior. By now you've all heard about the outburst from Congressman Joe Wilson. President Obama was rebutting the false charge that the health care plan will cover illegal immigrants, and the Congressman screamed out "you lie!!" Many conservatives point out that plenty of Democrats called Bush a liar, but no one did in the hallowed House chamber during a Presidential address. It is more than bad protocol. The face on House Speaker Pelosi when she heard this outburst was absolutely priceless. I have to say, us CSPAN junkies are not surprised that Wilson was the culprit. After all, he's the Congressmen who who ends every speech in the House floor by saying, in an almost illiterate tone, "In conclusion, God bless our troops, and we will never forget September the 11th." Other Republicans were seen holding up home-made signs touting their counter-proposals, and typing on their blackberries. These antics not only might turn off independent voters who find the behavior disrespectful, but also could help unite disparate Democrats.
So will this speech have a tangible impact? It's true that we're at a point in the process where the entire plan is in the hands of a few moderate Democrats and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in the Senate. Can a good speech really put the vote total over the top? I think it can, because a lot of these centrist Democrats are flimsy political actors who are susceptible to changes in public opinion. If the speech helped in any way to change public perception of the plan, I think a good bill has a much better chance of passing.
THE HOUSE: Congress finished its work for the week today (what a grueling 3 day week it was!). The House passed a bill that extends funding authorization for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network. The bill passed by a vote of 311-107, with all no votes coming from Republicans, who objected to the authorization of new spending. The House beat back a Republican motion to recommit that would enact funding for this bill if the deficit came under $1 trillion. Basically, the Republicans found a way to spend House floor time to talk about the deficit. The motion failed by a vote of 194-229, with 19 Democrats joining every Republican in support. The House moves on to more important business next week, including a very important student loan bill, which we'll discuss at length when the time comes.
THE SENATE: We mentioned yesterday that the Senate cut off debate on the nomination of Cass Sunstein to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget (see yesterday's entry about why his nomination had been delayed). The Senate voted on the nomination itself today, and confirmed Sunstein by a vote of 57-4o. Republicans Bennett (UT), Collins (ME), Hatch (UT), Lugar (IN), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich voted yes, while Democrats Begich (AK), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR) and Webb (VA) voted no. This was the first vote for new Senator George LeMieux, chosen last month by Florida Governor (and Senate candidate) Charlie Crist to replace Mel Martinez, who bolted before his term ended next year. LeMieux will almost certainly not challenge his appointer in next year's election, so he better enjoy his 16 months in the Senate while he can. I expect him to be a reliable Republican vote, as Martinez generally was (except on issues like immigration).
The Senate will move next week to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill, which will be the 5th out of the 12 appropriations bill that the Senate has to pass before the fiscal year ends on September 30th (not gonna happen, they'll need to pass a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running temporarily.)
That's it for today, leave us some comments!