President Barack Obama tried to make it clear Wednesday where he stands on the issue of health care as Congress struggles to revamp the nation’s health care system.
At a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Obama touched upon the wide range of issues surrounding the debate over health care, including the “scare tactics,” the rising costs, the stories and struggles of real-life Americans, and the bickering – which he said must come to an end.
“The time for games has passed,” Obama said to sound of applause. “Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.”
As he had done before, Obama tried to set the record straight on the “bogus claims” that have been fueling the concerns of Americans.
Present reform efforts will not insure illegal immigrants, the president said, drawing an unusual “you lie” from one Republican congressman in the crowd.
Furthermore, under the current plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place, he added, though critics have argued fiercely otherwise.
Also, to those who view reform as a "government takeover" of the entire health care system, Obama argued that consumers do better when there is choice and competition.
“Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable,” the president said.
“Let me be clear. It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance,” he added.
Before closing, Obama evoked the memory and the passion of the late Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who had written a letter to the president in May that was not delivered until after his death last month.
In the letter, Kennedy called health care reform the “great unfinished business of our society" – something that Obama alluded to earlier in his speech when noting that every president and Congress since Theodore Roosevelt has attempted to reform the health care system.
The Democratic senator predicted that 2009 would be the year health care reform would finally pass and said health care is decisive for America’s future prosperity.
"[I]t concerns more than material things," Kennedy wrote, according to Obama. "What we face … is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
Obama said on issues like health care, Kennedy’s passion was “born not of some rigid ideology.”
“That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character – our ability to stand in other people's shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise,” Obama stated.
In closing, the president urged Congress not to “kick the can further down the road – to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.”
“That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it," he declared. "I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe … that we can act when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.
“Because that's who we are. That is our calling. That is our character,” Obama stated in his conclusion.
According to statistics cited by Obama during his speech, there are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point in their adult lives. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage.
The three basic goals Obama says his plan would meet include providing more security and stability to those who have health insurance, providing insurance for those who don't, and slowing the growth of health care costs for families, businesses, and the government.