President Obama came to the Diplomatic Reception Room Saturday afternoon to herald the unpopular compromise Senate health care reform bill and the watered-down non-binding international climate change accord as "significant progress" on resolving "the crushing cost of health care and our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels."
Responding to a deal hashed-out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. — the last hold-out among all 60 senators who caucus with Democrats — the president said "it now appears that the American people will have the vote they deserve on genuine reform that offers security to those who have health insurance and affordable options to those for do not."
You can read the text of the compromise HERE.
According to the Congressional Budget Office analysis, the legislation "would establish a mandate for most legal residents of the United States to obtain health insurance; set up insurance exchanges through which certain individuals and families could receive federal subsidies to substantially reduce the cost of purchasing that coverage; significantly expand eligibility for Medicaid; substantially reduce the growth of Medicare’s payment rates for most services…impose an excise tax on insurance plans with relatively high premiums; and make various other changes to the federal tax code, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs."
The bill would "yield a net reduction in federal deficits of $132 billion" over the next decade, would raise taxes by $518.5 billion, and by 2019 would reduce by approximately 31 million the number of non-elderly Americans who are uninsured — "leaving about 23 million nonelderly residents uninsured (about one-third of whom would be unauthorized immigrants)."
President Obama called the bill "a major step forward for the American people. After a nearly century long struggle we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality in the United States of America."
In the last week, several liberal and progressive critics of the legislation, including former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, have assailed the bill. Dean argued that the bill's mandate that individuals obtain health insurance, while not offering a government-run public health care option, means the bill is "an insurance company's dream."
“If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing earlier this week. “Insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation… If this is such a good deal for them, I'm not entirely sure why they're fighting it.”
The liberal ire came from many changes made to the bill to win the votes of holdouts such as Nelson and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ind.-Conn. Democrats had worked to offer a government-run public insurance option to compete with private insurers and drive prices down, but Lieberman and others opposed such a move and, needing their votes, such provisions were dropped from the Senate version of the bill. Lieberman shot down a compromise to allow those between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy-in to Medicare, even though three months ago he seemed to voice support for such a move.
Nelson said today that his provisions would ensure that no public funds will be used for abortion; mandate that every state provide an insurance plan option that does not cover abortion; and give every state the right to pass a law barring insurance coverage for abortion within state borders.
Abortion rights groups today assailed the Nelson additions, while abortion opponents argued that they didn't go far enough.
Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said the changes create "a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us. And by the way, it's the rest of us who voted the current leadership into both houses of Congress."
The National Right to Life Committee's legislative director Douglas Johnson said the bill will allow the "federal government to subsidize private insurance plans that cover abortion on demand, to oversee multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and to empower federal officials to mandate that private health plans cover abortions even if they do not accept subsidized enrollees."
"As with any legislation, compromise is part of the process," President Obama said. "Between the time the bill passes and the time when the insurance exchange gets up and running there will now be penalties for insurance companies that arbitrarily jack up rates on consumers. And while insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions once the exchange is open, in the meantime there will be a high risk pool where people with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage."
The president also heralded the new rules for insurance companies — a prohibition on denying coverage to children, for instance, and a prohibition against companies dropping a patient's coverage if they become sick.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, today said "this bill is a legislative train wreck of historic proportions. They are so eager to claim a victory, they’ll simply do anything to jam it through in the next few days.”
Pointing to polls indicating that a majority of the American people oppose the legislation in the Congress, McConnell said "if they were proud of this bill they wouldn’t be doing it this way. They wouldn’t be jamming it through in the middle of the night on the last weekend before Christmas. And that really sums up, I think, what we’ve seen on full display here as they try to bob and weave and hide from the American people who have made it abundantly clear that they do not support what they know about this bill.”
Mr. Obama also discussed the progress he said occurred at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen yesterday.
"For the first time in history," the president said, "the world’s major economies have come together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat of climate change. After extremely difficult and complex negotiations this important breakthrough lays the foundation for international action in the years to come."
Environmentalists and even, privately, some administration officials with expertise on the issue were less laudatory about the last minute accord, a non-binding agreement that didn't set a deadline for the legally-binding treaty originally planned, with a watered-down process for countries to allow verification that they're following through with their commitments. One environmental group called the accord a "sham."
President Obama said the accord "did not come easily and we know that progress on this particular aspect of climate change negotiations is not enough."
The president said that even "though we have a long way to go, there’s no question that we’ve accomplished a great deal over the last few days. And I want America to continue to lead on this journey, because if America leads in developing clean energy, we will lead in growing our economy and putting our people back to work, and leaving a stronger and more secure country to our children."