After months of criticism that he has failed to outline a specific health care reform plan, President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night in a speech aides say will be to the point.
At stake for the president: getting Democratic factions on board with his plan and convincing Americans of the need for health care reform. “He’s going into full campaign mode” with this speech, said Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst. Some have even deemed it one of the key legislative speeches of his presidency to date. “Wednesday night’s health care speech may be one of the toughest he has faced,” said CNN contributor David Gergen. Obama, for the most part, has issued broad reform ideas, but he has left most of the specific legislative details to leaders in Congress, who have faced sometimes contentious negotiations. GOP strategist and CNN contributor Ed Rollins said that Obama must be “clear and very honest” with Americans on the specifics.
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Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, added that Obama must speak to the uninsured on what he’ll support and show Americans how he’ll “help them find insurance and keep insurance.” The White House has seemingly taken note. Vice President Joe Biden said last week that Obama will delve into specifics in Wednesday’s speech and will be “laying out in understandable, clear terms” what the administration wants for health care. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president’s speech will bring stability to people with insurance and affordable coverage to those without it. “They will know the plan provides safety, security and stability to the millions of people that have health insurance each and every day, but watching their premiums skyrocket and double,” Gibbs said Wednesday on CNN’s “American Morning.” “Secondly, for those who don’t have health insurance, but need affordable coverage, he will lay out a plan for how people can get that, as well. He’ll talk about the cost on government and why we can’t afford to wait longer. We have to act now.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thinks Obama’s speech will clarify the debate. Watch more on the health care debate “I have every belief that when he finishes his speech tomorrow, the American people will be able to put aside some of the ridiculous falsehoods that have been perpetrated these past few weeks,” Reid, D-Nevada, said Tuesday. A House Democrat said Obama’s specifics could be a game-changer in answering Americans’ anger and concern over health care reform, displayed in sometimes violent and rowdy town halls over the summer. “The president is clearly not running away from this battle, but rather confronting the challenges we’ve encountered these last few weeks head-on,” Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel of New York has said. “He’s pulling out all the stops, and this level of involvement from the president could well be a game-changer.” Rangel said the speech could be a great way to turn public opinion on health care around. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that Americans are evenly split over whether to support or oppose Obama’s health care plan. Six in 10 younger Americans support the plan; six in 10 senior citizens oppose it. Obama’s own party also is split: Liberals demand a public option while conservative Democrats are wary of the cost. A public option is a government-funded, government-run health care option, similar to Medicare. Under the plan, people would pay premiums 10 percent to 20 percent less than private insurance. Bridging that divide, Gergen noted, is a must on Wednesday. “The president must overcome tensions within his own Democratic party,” he said. “But Democrats already know that to win, they cannot count on Republicans, but instead must achieve unity among themselves. … No one knows whether Obama can heal the obvious divisions” within his party. The address Wednesday will be Obama’s second speech to the full Congress since he took office in January. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reid formally invited Obama to make the address, as required. On Tuesday, Obama met with the Democratic leaders at the White House to discuss the speech, among other things. After the discussion, Reid said the president and vice president were “very positive” about negotiations. “And that’s in keeping with the conversation by members in the past week: We’re ready to do health care reform,” he said. As for the speech, Reid said Obama didn’t “give us a dress rehearsal of the speech, but he did tell us that he’s going to outline to the American people and of course the Congress on the health care reform plan he hopes we will do.” Pelosi, meanwhile, said a public option is essential to bringing down health care costs and providing competition to insurance companies, a position she has touted over the past few months. So far, Democratic proposals in both chambers have come under withering Republican opposition and fierce attacks by conservative commentators, who argue it will raise the already skyrocketing deficit. The so-called “Gang of Six,” three Democrats and three Republicans, met Tuesday to consider a plan by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. The plan includes dropping the public option, taxing the priciest insurance plans and using health care cooperatives. After the meeting, the Montana Democrat asked members of the committee to come back to him on Wednesday morning with ideas and counterproposals. Another meeting will take place later in the afternoon to discuss whether they can reach a deal before Obama’s speech, Baucus added.
Another option, from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, would put forth a safety net, or “trigger,” for a public health care option as part of a key compromise. Watch more on the trigger proposal Snowe said she didn’t think there was time to reach a deal before Obama’s speech, but she hoped the group would continue to negotiate afterward.