President Addresses Criticism of Health Care Reform Efforts

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White House Photo, Lawrence Jackson, 7/22/09

As his health care reform initiative lost momentum in Congress and saw an erosion of public support, President Barack Obama held a press conference last night in hopes of rallying support for health care legislation that he stressed is central to rebuilding America's economy and making it "stronger than before." Taking his case directly to the electorate, Obama said, "I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, 'What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?' Tonight I want to answer those questions."

At the news conference, President Obama discussed the overall progress of health care reform and where reform fits into his administration's broader economic strategy. "The fact is, even before this crisis hit, we had an economy that was creating a good deal of wealth for those folks at the very top, but not a lot of good-paying jobs for the rest of America," said the president. "It's an economy that simply wasn't ready to compete in the 21st century, one where we've been slow to invest in clean-energy technologies that have created new jobs and industries in other countries, where we've watched our graduation rates lag behind too much of the world, and where we spend much more on health care than any other nation but aren't any healthier for it. And that's why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before -- and health-insurance reform is central to that effort."

The president stressed that health care reform is "not just about the 47 million Americans who don't have any health insurance at all," it's about "every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage, if they become too sick or lose their job or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage, because it became too expensive.... If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket."

In a Rasmussen Reports issued prior to the president's news conference, 53 percent of U.S. voters said they are at least somewhat opposed to the current health care reform bill making its way through the House. Rasmussen Reports noted that there is a "huge partisan divide on the health care plan": Sixty-eight percent of Democrat voters polled favor the plan, while 80 percent of Republicans oppose it. Moreover, 60 percent of those not affiliated with a particular party oppose it as well. In addition, there is a wage divide among those who do and do not support the bill. Most of those making less than $40,000 a year support the bill; most of those making more than $40,000 per year oppose the legislation.

While President Obama charged that some Republicans were refusing to compromise on the health care bill in an effort to weaken his presidency, Republican leaders, in their rebuttal, denied the charge and insisted that that the GOP is unanimously in favor of reforming health care. However, they are concerned with the costs and issues of access associated with the Democratic plan.

"The administration does continue to mention these unnamed people who seem not to want to make progress on [reform], and I've been unable to find anyone," said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "Not a single, solitary soul, as I indicated, of the Republican Conference in the Senate is in favor of no action. What we do think is that we ought to target the problems. And there are ways to do that that could be achieved, I think, on a large bipartisan basis."

Amidst the political jockeying, it became clear that Congress would not meet the president's expressed hope of a vote on health care reform before the legislative August recess. Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the Senate Finance Committee will not act on its portion of the bill before lawmakers' month-long break, as reported by A.P. ''It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through,'' said Reid. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stated that she had the votes to secure passage for a health care reform bill in the House, a senior Democratic source said that fiscally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats are unlikely to vote for the legislation without a number of "structural changes" to the bill, as reported by CNN. A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House bill would result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion between 2010 and 2019.

At its summer meeting, the American Booksellers Association's Board of Directors discussed the ongoing national debate regarding health care reform, and how ABA might play an advocacy role on behalf of independent booksellers. Following its discussions, the Board concluded that it needed more information from member stores. On Tuesday, July 21, member bookstores were sent a communication from ABA President Michael Tucker, of San Francisco's Books Inc., with a link to a very short online survey regarding health care reform. Booksellers are asked to complete the survey, also accessible here, by Tuesday, July 28.