WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama, addressing Congress on health care reform Wednesday evening, tried to strike a centrist note, positioning himself as the rational man in the middle between the left and right extremes.
But, did his message of moderation gain any Republican favor? The answer, at least among the GOP members of the Minnesota delegation, is a resounding “No.” They remain unswayed and unimpressed.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Democrats that MinnPost talked to after the speech were wholly impressed, as may have been expected. But, even 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, a Blue Dog Democrat with ample criticism of the current health care bill in the House, offered up some praise for the president’s vision.
In his speech, Obama nimbly addressed the government-run public option plan, which has been controversial, especially in the Senate where centrist Democrats have said they will not vote for it. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for example, has generally supported the health care reform efforts but has taken a wait-and-see approach on the public option. Meanwhile, in the House, liberal Democrats, such as 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison, have said they will vote down any bill that does not include a public option.
Here’s a capsule look at reaction to Obama’s speech and plans from all members of the Minnesota delegation.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar: The president did “an excellent job of explaining these complicated topics in a way that was forceful, but also inspirational,” she said. “He clearly is behind the public option. He thinks it is a smart way to allow businesses and individuals to buy in. He made that very clear. But, he also acknowledged that there are other ideas that reach the same goals and they are worth exploring.”
“This was a speech, not to the members of Congress sitting in that chamber [but to] America,” she said, adding, “He went through exactly how this plan would work, and he dispelled myths, which were important, and addressed what was most important to me, which is the cost and affordability.”
Klobuchar also said it was “smart” of Obama at several points in his speech to name Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and former President George W. Bush, with ideas that could be incorporated.
Klobuchar said she hopes that when the president travels to Minnesota this weekend to talk about health care that he will also address rural health care issues.
“He [generally] addressed everything that I wanted to hear, but I hope when he comes Saturday, he will focus more on the primary care issue and rural issues.”
Democratic Sen. Al Franken: Franken, who sits on the Senate Health Committee, also has supported the health care reform efforts in the House and Senate. Franken supports the public option as one of the best ways to help bring down costs. He released the following statement after the speech:
“I’ve talked to thousands of Minnesotans as I traveled the state during August, and no matter which end of the political spectrum they’re on, people want real reform. I think we heard the same message from the President tonight that I have heard from my constituents: now is the time to fix our broken health insurance system to lower costs, improve quality, and ensure choice of health plans.
“We can’t afford the cost of inaction. The President’s proposals will bring secure coverage and better health to the millions of Americans who are being crushed by skyrocketing costs.
“So my colleagues and I are re-energized to get this done and I believe we’ll get legislation passed this fall.”
Listen below to hear Franken read his message.
Rep. Tim Walz, 1st District Democrat: Walz has supported the Democrat-led health care reform efforts in the House, but, as a more moderate Democrat, has raised concerns about costs and questions about the public option.
“I thought it was great,” Walz said of the speech. “I am glad the President did it. He clearly articulated the need for reform. The status quo is not an option. He clearly laid out the [details] then he reminded us all about the character of this country and the moral imperative.”
“I felt really good about that,” Walz continued. “I felt it brought us back to a good, calm place … I thought he did great on [explaining] where he stands on the public option. He was very clear that it is a part of the reform, but it is not the central part. He told the left that it is not the central plan, and he told the Republicans that it is not the bogeyman of government takeover.”
“It is something that I have been facing,” said Walz, who hails from a swing district. “I have been focused much more on what I think is the essential heart of reform, which is how we deliver and pay for coverage, and that is this idea of paying through a value index.”
Rep. John Kline, 2nd District Republican: Kline — the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee (one of three House committees with jurisdiction over the health care legislation) — has been adamantly opposed to the Democrats’ plan in the House. He released the following statement:
“The President’s outreach to Congress and the American people is welcome, but a speech alone will not cure the ailing health care reform process. The public outcry that reached a crescendo this summer will not be quelled until Democrats in Washington finally press the reset button on health care reform and abandon the secretive, partisan process that has characterized their efforts thus far.
“Rather than applying a new coat of varnish to the same flawed ideas that have been rejected by the American people, Democrats should focus on common sense solutions that can be implemented quickly, with bipartisan support. Republicans are ready and willing to reach across the aisle to develop meaningful health care reforms that will drive down costs without sacrificing quality — and expand coverage without orchestrating a government takeover.”
Rep. Erik Paulsen, 3rd District Republican: Paulsen, a freshman who replaced the moderate Republican Jim Ramstad, also has opposed the Democrat’s health care bill in the House, released the following statement after Obama’s speech:
“Minnesotans have expressed their disapproval of the current reform plan and I am hopeful the President will follow through on his statements about the need for bipartisan solutions. I remain concerned that a central focus of the plan includes a government-run public option with a price tag of $900 billion.”
Rep. Betty McCollum, 4th District Democrat: McCollum has supported the Democrats’ health care reform efforts in the House, leading a push this summer to have the Medicare payment model, which currently puts states like Minnesota at a disadvantage, addressed in the legislation.
“I’m glad that President Obama really laid it out to Congress,” McCollum said. “I was very pleased and I was very pleased for him really stating that he is not going to tolerate fear-mongers … He is going to call people out.”
McCollum continued: “He needed to come out with a strong message that we need to fight to reform health care in this country. But, he laid out that we have consensus…”
She noted Obama’s strong support for the public option and said he adequately addressed issues with Medicare, including fraud and waste that need to be fixed.
“I heard him say that for … Americans who will need a different choice, there should be an option open for them,” McCollum said.
“I thought he did a fabulous job,” she said. “I’m very proud of his leadership. But, if my Republican colleagues don’t want to work together in a way that [leads to] reform, then we will have to do it without them.”
Rep. Keith Ellison, 5th District Democrat: Ellison, who is part of the liberal Progressive Caucus, has also supported Democratic efforts on health care. But, Ellison and other liberals in the House have threatened to withhold their support for any plan that does not include a robust public option. Before the speech, Ellison said that he wanted to hear the president take a firm stance on reform while addressing his support for the public option.
“I was very happy with his speech,” Ellison said. “He affirmed the importance of the public option. He explained why it was essential to reform, and I was very proud that he did not back off this essential leg … I think he was tough enough, which he needed to be. He needed to be tough because he let these Republicans know he isn’t going to be pushed around, which I think is good. And, he also maintained his bipartisan tenor, which I think is important because that is who he is.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann, 6th District Republican: Bachmann, along with the majority of Republicans in Congress, has denounced the Democrats’ health care reform bill in the House. She issued the following statement after the president’s speech:
“I wish the President would have used this opportunity tonight to drop the rhetoric and signal to the American people a real willingness to work towards bipartisan reform. But, instead, he seems intent on plowing ahead with the same government-run program.
“The President says his door is open and he’s willing to consider bipartisan reform, but his words just don’t match his actions. It’s my hope that moving forward, President Obama will reach across the aisle and consider common sense reforms that won’t break the bank.”
Rep. Collin Peterson, 7th District Democrat: Peterson, a Blue Dog Democrat, has expressed concerns with the current bill in the House, particularly over the use of the Medicare reimbursement model and implementing a public option based on it.
“Good speech,” Peterson said. “If they could actually get a bill out that looks like that, it could be something I could get behind, but it depends on the details.”
Peterson said he was tentatively optimistic that the president might be stepping away from a public option as a necessary requirement to passing legislation. But, he added that he would also have liked to hear the president address the problems with the current Medicare reimbursement model.
“The Medicare issue is a big deal for me,” Peterson said. “That has been my biggest problem.”
Rep. Jim Oberstar, 8th District Democrat: Oberstar has been a strident supporter of the Democrats’ health care reform efforts in the House and an advocate of the public option. He released the following statement after the speech:
“President Obama made a ringing appeal for reform of our health insurance sector, inspiring the Democratic base in the House and throughout the country. He directly attacked the egregious myths about health reform and called them what they are — ‘lies.’
“The President was very specific, as he needed to be: there are no death panels in this bill, no coverage of illegal immigrants and no funding of abortion,” Oberstar continued. “He promised to hold insurance company bureaucrats accountable for corporate abuses, such as denying policy holders coverage in order to improve corporate profits. He was also very specific about protections in the bill, if you move, change your job, lose your job, or even start you own small business, you should not lose your health insurance. Those are protections in this bill.
“There will be no denial for pre-existing conditions, no dropped coverage, no arbitrary corporate cap on your coverage, but there will be a limit on your out of pocket costs.
“He was very clear about building on what works and fixing what doesn’t and he clearly placed the public option as coverage of last resort for those who have no other means of obtaining health insurance. The public option will be a fiscally responsible plan, living on its own premiums but without the egregious and excessive profits of corporate executives.
“President Obama was blunt with opponents for their campaign of demagogy and distortion, calling it like it is and looking directly at those who persist in spreading falsehoods. But his best moment was his closing appeal to our larger spirits, our common ideals and compassion for one another.”
Oberstar also made a prediction: “This speech will energize the House and the Senate to move health insurance reform through to completion in this session of Congress, as we must.”
Cynthia Dizikes is MinnPost’s Washington, D.C., correspondent and covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on developments out of Washington that are important to Minnesota readers.