Connecticut’s Health Care Advocate Kevin Lembo had a front row seat Wednesday evening for President Barack Obama’s prime time speech on health care.
Sitting up in the gallery about 20 seats away from first lady Michelle Obama, Lembo said the president did exactly what he should have done by setting the record straight, talking about cooperation, and leaving the door open to suggestions like insurance co-ops.
“It sounded a lot like what the HELP committee already produced,” Lembo said as he walked down Independence Avenue just south of the U.S. Capitol.
Seated over the Republican section of the House, Lembo said that when one of the members on the Republican side shouted, “You lie!” during a portion of the speech, one of the Republican Party leaders slapped a rolled up piece of paper into his hand and shot a glance to let the shouter know he was clearly out of line. The Associated Press later identified the man as U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina.
Within minutes of the end of the speech, Wilson’s challenger – Rob Miller – was using the incident to raise campaign money.
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy also issued a statement following Obama’s televised address, saying, “President Obama gave a beautiful speech that said nothing, except that government-run health care is the only option.”
“I was in the room and that’s not what I heard,” Lembo said. “A public option was a very small piece of the overall speech.”
Lembo said Obama encouraged lawmakers not to get caught up on that one word.
Obama even offered an olive branch to the Republicans, saying he doesn’t think medical malpractice reform is a “silver bullet,” but he knows that doctors practicing defensive medicine can lead to unnecessary costs. Obama said he instructed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to move ahead with pilot projects addressing malpractice reform.
Lembo thought it was also significant that Obama said if the reform effort starts costing more than its estimates, then Congress would be required to go back and cut spending. Lembo said that this is different than previous reforms such as Medicare Part D, which was not paid for and “frankly did drive up costs.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd helped usher the legislation through the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee this summer.
“The President understands that health care reform isn’t about him, or about any of us in Congress who already have great health care,” Dodd said. “It’s about creating an America where people don’t go broke because they get sick; where people don’t die because they can’t get the treatment they need.”
Healy remains unconvinced.
“Republicans believe immediate reforms that can help people now can be accomplished without radically altering one sixth of our economy while creating more uncertainty for all Americans,” Healy said. “Republicans see this debate simply – protect the rights of all citizens to choose their health care, remove waste and fraud, and create more access for others through more competitive markets driven by the private sector.”
But Dodd and other Democrats appear to be focused on pushing through the legislation.
“We have come too far to turn back now,” Dodd said. “And I believe that this Congress will leave behind the cheap politics of a hot summer and get back to doing the job we were sent here to do.”
Click here to read Mr. Lembo’s previous blog post.