President Obama’s Speech to House Democrats Today on Passage of Health Care Reform

President Obama's Speech to House Democrats Today on Passage of Health Care Reform

[Note from BFIA: Consider this a delayed live-blog.]

Quote by Abraham Lincoln – “I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed but I'm bound to live up to the light that I have.”

“..This has been a difficult debate, a difficult process…this year has been a difficult year for the American people.  When I was sworn in we were in the midst of the worst recession since the great depression…800,000 people per month were losing their jobs, millions were losing their health insurance and the financial system was on the verge of collapse…this body has taken on some of the toughest votes and some of the toughest decisions in the history of Congress.  Not because you were bound to win but because you were bound to be true…because each and every one of you made a decision that at a moment of such urgency, it was less important to measure what the polls said than to measure what was right… 

Now a year later, we're in different circumstances.  Because of the actions that you've taken, the financial system has stabilized, businesses are starting to reinvest, the economy, instead of contracting, is starting to grow again…there's still tremendous hardship, but there is a sense that we are making progress – because of you.  

But even before this crisis, each and every one of us knew that there were millions of people across America living their own quiet crisis – [gives examples of typical health care crises] – every single one of you at some point before you arrived in Congress and after, have met constituents with heart-breaking stories, and you've looked them in the eye and you said you were going to do something about it, that's why I want to go to Congress.  And now, we're on the threshold of doing something about it.  We're a day away.  After a year of debate, after every argument has been made by just about everybody – we're 24 hours away. 

As some of you know, I'm not somebody who spends  lot of time surfing the cable channels, but I'm not completely in the bubble.  I have a sense of what the [news] coverage has been and mostly, it's been obsession with:  “What will this mean for the Democratic party?  What will this mean for the President's polls?  How will this play out in November?  Is this good or bad for the Democratic majority?  What does it mean for those swing districts? 

And I notice that there's been a lot of friendly advice offered all across town.  Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Carl Rove, they're all warning you of the horrendous impact if you support this legislation.  Now, it could be that they are suddently having a change of heart and they are deeply concerned about their Democratic friends (laughter).  They are giving you the best possible advice in order to assure that Nancy Pelosi remains Speaker, and that Harry Reid remains Leader, and that all of you keep your seats.  That's a possibility.  But it may also be possible that they realize after health reform passes, and I sign that legislation into law, that it's going to be a little harder to mischaracterize what this effort has been all about.

Because this year, small businesses will start getting tax credits so that they can offer health insurance to employees who currently don't have it.  Because this year those same parents who were worried about getting coverage for their children with pre-existing conditions now are assured that insurance companies have to give them coverage – this year.  Because this year insurance companies won't suddenly be able to drop your coverage when you get sick or impose lifetime limits or restrictive limits on the coverage you have.  Maybe they know that this year for the first time, young people will be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until they are twenty-six years old and they're thinking that might just be popular all across the country.  

And what they also know is what won't happen.

They know that after this legislation passes and I sign this bill, lo and behold, nobody's pulling the plug on granny (laughter).  It turns out that in fact people who like their health insurance are able to keep their insurance, that there's no gov't takeover.  People will discover that they can keep their doctor, are more likely to be able to keep their doctor because of a stronger system.  It will turn out that this piece of historic legislation is built on the private insurance system that we have now and runs straight down the center of American political thought.  Turns out this is a bill that tracks the recommendations of Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and Howard Baker.  This is a middle of the road bill that is designed to help the American people in an area of their lives where they urgently need help.  

Now there are some who wanted a single payer, government run system.  That's not this bill.  

The Republicans wanted what I call the “foxes-guard-the-hen-house” approach in which we further de-regulate the insurance companies and let them run wild, the notion being somehow that was going to lower costs for the American people.  I don't know a serious health care economist who buys that idea, but that was their concept.  And we rejected that.  Because we said that we want to create a system in which health care works not for the insurance companies, but for the American people and working families.

So what did we do?  What is the essence of this legislation?

Number one: This is the toughest insurance reforms in history.  We are making sure that the system of private insurance works for ordinary families – a patients' bill of rights on steroids.  So many of you have worked on these insurance reforms.  They are in this package.  That insurance companies are not going to game the system with fine print, recisions and dropping people, but instead are going to have to abide by some basic rules of the road.

The second thing this does is creates a pool – a marketplace – where individuals and small businesses who right now are having a terrible time out there getting health insurance, are going to be able to purchase health insurance as part of a big group just like federal employees, and members of Congress.  They are now going to be part of a pool that can negotiate for better rates, better quality.  That is why the CBO says this will lower people's rates for comparable plans by 14-20%.  That's not my numbers – that's the CBO's numbers.  So people will have choice and competition just like members of Congress have choice and competition.

Number three:  If people still can't afford it, we're going to provide them some tax credits –  The biggest tax cut for small business and working families when it comes to health care – in history.  (applause)

Number four:  This is the biggest reduction in our deficit since the budget balance act, one of the biggest deficit reduction measures in history – over 1.3 trillion dollars that will help put us on the path of fiscal responsibility….  Everybody who has looked at it says that every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually begin reducing health care costs, are in this bill.

So that's what this effort is all about – toughest insurance reforms in history, a marketplace for choice and competition, reductions in the cost of health care for millions of families including those who have health insurance.  The Business Round Table says this will save employers $3,000 per employee…not only does it reduce the deficit, we pay for it responsibly….  this is paid for, and won't add a dime to the deficit and will reduce the defiicit.

Is this bill perfect?  Of course, not.  Will this solve every problem in our health care system right away? No.  There are many ideas that many of you have that aren't included in this legislation.  There are many things that many of you would like to see, and that I would like to see, that are not in this legislation.

But is this the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare?  Absolutely.

Is this the most important piece of domestic legislation in terms of giving a break to middle class families?  Absolutely.

Is this a vast improvement over the status quo?  Absolutely.

I know this is a tough vote.  I've talked to many of you individually.  If you honestly believe that this is not an improvement over the status quo, if you think that the system is working for ordinary Americans, rather than insurance companies, if you can honestly say that, then you shouldn't support it.  You're here to represent your constituencies, and if you think they honestly wouldn't be helped, you shouldn't vote for this.

But if you agree that the system isn't working, if you've heard the same stories that I've heard all across this country, then help us fix this system.  Don't do it for me.  Don't do it for Nancy Pelosi.  Or Harry Reid.  Do it for all those people out there who are struggling….

Don't do it for me.  Don't do it for the Democratic party.  Do it for the American people. They are the ones who are looking for action right now.

I know this is a tough vote.  And I am actually confident that it will end up being the smart thing to do politically, because I believe good policy is good politics.  I am convinced that when you go out there and you are standing tall and you are saying, 'I believe that this is the right thing to do for my constituents and the right thing to do for America,' that ultimately, the truth will win out… (Has a couple of previous no-votes stand up and get applause from the caucus).  I can't guarantee this is good politics.  You all know your districts better than I do.  You're getting pressure, robo-calls, e-mails, phone calls that are tying up your communications systems…I know the pressure you're under.  I got a few comments made about me, I don't know if you've  noticed.  I've been in your shoes.  I know what it's like to take a tough vote.

But what did Lincoln say?  I am not bound to win.  But I am bound to be true. 

Two generations ago, folks who are sitting in your position made a decision, said we are going to make sure that seniors and the poor are going to have health care.  And they did the right thing.  I'm sure at the time they were making that vote, they weren't sure of how the politics were either, any more than the people who made the decision to make sure Social Security was in place knew how the politics would play out, or the people who passed the civil rights act knew how the politics were going to play out.  

They were not bound to win.  They were bound to be true.

And now we've got middle class Americans – don't have Medicare, don't have Medicaid, watching the employer-based system fray along the edges, who are being caught in terrible situations, and the question is, are we going to be true to them?

You know, sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics.  I didn't think of myself as a potential politician when I graduated from college.  I was skeptical about politics and politicians – just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politicians right now.  Because I thought… folks in elected office are looking out for themselves, and not looking out for the folks who put them there… that there were too many compromises, special interests have too much power, there's too much big money washing around.  I decided finally to get involved because I realized that if I wasn't willing to step up and be true to the things that I believed in, then the system wouldn't change.

Every single one of you had that same moment at the beginning of your careers.  Maybe it was listening to stories in  your neighborhood,  people being laid off in your neighborhood, or a moment where you said, something should change…something inspired you to get involved…and something inspired you to be a Democrat instead of running as a Republican, because somewhere, deep in your heart, you said to yourself, I believe in an America in which we don't just look out for ourselves, and we don't just tell people, you're on your own, that we are proud of our individualism, we are proud of our liberty, but we also have a sense of community, and we are willing to look out for one another, and help people who are vulnerable, and help people who are down on their luck, and give them a pathway to success, and give them a ladder into the middle class.  

That's why you decided to run.

And now, a lot of us have been here awhile.  And everybody here's taken their lumps and their bruises and everyone's had to make compromises, and you've been away from families for a long time, and you've missed special events for your kids sometimes, and maybe there've been times where you've asked yourself, why'd I ever get involved in politics in the first place?  And maybe things can't change after all.  And when you do something courageous, it turns out, sometimes you may be attacked.  And sometimes the very people you were trying to help may be angry at you and shout at  you, and you say to yourself, maybe that thing that I started with has been lost. 

But you know what?  Every once in awhile, a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had – about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings, and all those constituency breakfasts, all that travelling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and said, you're right, the system's not working for you, and I'm going to make it a little bit better. 

And this is one of those moments.  This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, this is exactly why I came here.  This is why I got into politics.  This is why I got into public service.  This is why I've made those sacrifices – because I believe so deeply in this country – and I believe so deeply in this democracy, that I'm willing to stand up even when it's hard.  Even when it's tough.  Every single one of you have made that promise, not just to your constituents but to youself. 

And this is the time to make true on that promise.

We are not bound to win.  But we are bound to be true.  We are not bound to succeed.  But we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.  

We have been debating health care for decades.  It has now been debated for a year.  It is in your hands. It is time to pass health care reform for America and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow.

Thank you very much, House of Representatives!  Let's get this done!  

(House chants:  Fired up!  Ready to go!)

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