President Obama goes for all the marbles next Wednesday when he addresses a joint session of Congress of healthcare reform. At this point, he might as well swing for the fences. Changing the nation’s healthcare system for the better is, like it or not, the defining issue of his presidency. Polls indicate the nation isn’t all that happy with the way he’s handled things thus far, but the game isn’t over yet. I’m using a few sports metaphors on purpose here. That’s because for the president’s opposition, healthcare has become a high stakes game of chicken.
Look for a moment at the duplicity of Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley. For months now, Grassley has been dangling the hope of bipartisan compromise on reform. He is, after all, the ranking Republican member of the Finance Committee, and part of the “Gang of Six” that were in talks to get something done. He’d even been to the White House three times to meet with the president. Then came August, and the rancorous town hall meetings across the country. Grassley’s commitment to bipartisanship seems to have ended right there. Compare for yourself.
Grassley in April: “Health care not only is 16% of the gross national product, but it touches the quality of life of every household as few others do. I’m doing everything I can to make the reform effort in Congress a bipartisan one.”
Grassley in an August fund raising letter: “The simple truth is that I am and always have been opposed to the Obama Administration’s plans to nationalize health care. Period.”
So much for playing nice. And now it looks like Obama has at least in part learned his lesson. Instead of negotiating with Grassley, he’s talking to Maine’s Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, probably a better choice to begin with. And it looks like he’ll press forward with his vision of healthcare reform not just to members of Congress, but to the American people as well. This makes sense, since recent polls say most folks in fact support a public option as part of reform.
It may not be the single payer, universal plan that I personally favor, but it’s better than the status quo some lawmakers are advocating. And of course, when you look at where some of these people get their campaign contributions from, the real reason for their opposition becomes clear.
What exactly the president will say to Congress is anybody’s guess, since we’re just under a week away from the address. If he asked my opinion (and he hasn’t), I’d say it’s time for one of those inspirational speeches like the ones he gave so well during the campaign. You can win this battle, Mr. President. Just don’t make this speech a mind numbing recitation of statistics and numbers. Bring fire, Barack Obama! The stakes are high.
What do you think. Can President Obama still win the healthcare reform battle?