Obama hits stand-up triple with health care speech

Where have you been, President Obama? It’s clear after tonight’s excellent speech to a joint session of Congress that your relative absence from the health care reform debate has been the primary problem in pushing a workable bill forward. We could have saved a whole lot of trouble if you had made this speech a month ago.

Obama’s 40-minute speech outlining and making the case for his health care reform proposal was easy to understand, reasonable and passionate. It could be the turning point for getting a reform bill passed that will have at least a touch of bipartisan support.

In general, he positioned himself near the political center, where he believes we should "build on what works and fix what doesn’t." He said there is agreement on both sides of the aisle in Congress on about 80 percent of his proposal. This would include no more pre-existing conditions, no more dropping health coverage when somebody gets sick and no more outrageous medical bills that drive sick people into bankruptcy.

The biggest news, at least according to the big media, is that Obama did not insist upon the so-called public option. He expressed support for it for those who don’t have health insurance but he didn’t insist on it. I don’t expect this piece of the legislation to make it into the final bill, and I don’t think Obama does either.

Also interesting: Obama met the conservatives halfway on tort reform. But only halfway.

He estimated his plan would cost $900 billion over 10 years. That’s a lot of cash, but less than the cost so far of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He was a little vague on how this would be paid for, although he talked about charging insurance companies.

Obama closed strong, citing the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s dying hope that health care reform would pass this year and arguing that how this debate turns out will reflect upon the "character of our country."

It is possible that this speech will spur action this fall on a bill that a majority of Americans can get behind. It clearly was a strategic error for Obama to allow Congress to take charge of health care reform. He should have led the way from the beginning.

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