GOP, Dems react to Obama health care speech

Democrats feel motivated while Republicans feel ignored.
Katie Prince / Graphic Designer

Following President Barack Obama's address to Congress on health care reform Wednesday night, opinions were mixed about whether reform was still possible, with Democrats saying he had encouraged action and Republicans unsure he would listen to their concerns.

In a nationally televised primetime speech, Obama outlined the parts of four pending health care bills he supports. He voiced his support for a public insurance option to compete with private plans and also said consumers who have insurance will not be forced to give it up.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., praised the president's speech as having dispelled false claims about health care reform, such as rumors that "death panels" would be created to eliminate costly patients or the government seeks to replace private insurance policies with government policies automatically.

"After hosting town halls throughout Missouri, I think the president did a good job correcting all the misinformation that has been spread," McCaskill said in a statement. "Now with the stakes made clear, it's time to work on reasonable health insurance reform that will bring down the cost of health care, improve the way care is provided and do it in a way that doesn't saddle our grandchildren with our debt."

Jim Hubbard, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said the speech would generally increase support for reform and the GOP risked angering voters by simply opposing all Democratic proposals for reform.

"He thinks the president has crystallized the message that it's time to move forward and that people want real reform to happen," Hubbard said.

Republicans saw the president's attempts to clarify parts of pending bills as attempts to stifle their objections to congressional proposals he supports. In a statement on his Web site, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., said Obama sought only to promote his ideas, rather than a bipartisan solution.

"I had hoped that the president's address would mark the beginning of a truly bipartisan effort to reform health care for all American families," Luetkemeyer said. "But unfortunately those hopes were dashed by the cleverly disguised attempt to sell the American people a health care proposal they soundly rejected during the month of August in halls across America."

Throughout the speech, Democrats applauded while Republicans remained seated and held up copies of their health care proposals to symbolize their objections. At one point, when Obama told them legislation would not provide illegal immigrants free health care, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted "You lie," drawing rebukes from leaders of both parties.

Rob Hillman, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus for Missouri, said the general mood of opposition among GOP members should have gotten more attention than Wilson's singular outburst.

"I thought there wasn't enough attention paid to who that was or what they were rumbling about," Hillman said. "Why is the focus on the single individual (Wilson) when he could have just been vocalizing what that group was thinking?"

MU political science professor Marvin Overby said the speech might not galvanize Congress to pass reforms supported by the most liberal Democrats, but it was also not too little, too late in the debate.

"I think it's probably somewhere in the middle," Overby said. "I think there will be some kind of health care reform, but it will be the result of a lot of compromise."

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