After President Obama's State of the Union address Wednesday night, responses from the both sides of the political fence quickly followed. Many were waiting to see if the President would continue strong support for healthcare reform or back away from the issue. While not as urgent a priority as the economy, Obama did vow he would not walk away from the issue of healthcare and encouraged Congress to remain committed (See DM 14477).
Virginia Governor Bob McConnell delivered the official Republican response following the President's address. Concerning Obama's stance on health care reform, McConnell stated, "All Americans agree, we need a healthcare system that is affordable, accessible, and high quality. But most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government. Republicans in Congress have offered legislation to reform healthcare, without shifting Medicaid costs to the states, without cutting Medicare, and without raising your taxes. We will do that by implementing common sense reforms, like letting families and businesses buy health insurance policies across state lines, and ending frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up the cost of your healthcare."
On the Democratic Congressional front, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated, "President Obama engaged America in a conversation about what has worked, what needs improvement and how we can move forward together.... Jobs are still too few, healthcare is still too scarce and expensive, foreclosures are still too frequent and our energy future is still too treacherous....As the President expressed tonight, we are moving full speed ahead in bringing about the meaningful change that we were sent to Washington to deliver."
In the other chamber of Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave an upbeat message, also mentioning a commitment to healthcare reform: "Tonight, President Obama presented a vision to the American people of a stronger union, a new foundation for prosperity, and a thriving middle class. Working together, we will adopt a bold agenda for our economic growth -- founded on good-paying jobs, strong schools, quality, affordable health insurance, and critical investments in small businesses and our clean energy future....Addressing a critical challenge for our economy and millions of households, Congress will pass health insurance reform that lowers costs for American families and small businesses, creates jobs, and ends the insurance companies' worst practices."
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), Chair of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, also followed with strong comments: "We will also work with President Obama to pass comprehensive healthcare reform that lifts the burden of skyrocketing healthcare costs off of American families, businesses and our federal deficits. Healthcare costs are growing far faster than our economy and, as a result, slowing our economic recovery. When a strong bill that lowers healthcare costs becomes law, businesses will be better able to hire and invest, families will be better able to protect their savings and the federal deficit will shrink. Health reform helps fulfill the promise to get our economy back on track. Health reform also represents a critical component in our effort to combat a decade of ballooning federal debt. Health reform will cut the deficit by more than $100 billion in the first ten years and by hundreds of billions more in the decade that follows. Reducing the federal debt is critical to a strong and vibrant economy, and we stand with President Obama in our shared commitment to tackle this challenge head on."
Others on the Republican side had high marks for some other messages in the President's economic outlook and his style, but were still uniformly against the current healthcare reform plan. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) was critical of how Obama addressed the issue: "...the number one issue that has been in the public debate has been healthcare....So, it took 45 minutes approximately for the President to reach that discussion and there was absolutely no nod to the voters of Massachusetts, Virginia or New Jersey. No recognition that his plan is very unpopular and all he said was, it is my fault for not explaining what I'm doing better because my way is right and Congress, you better act. Now, that is not the way to lead when you've got a country that's so dissatisfied."
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) had his own suggestions for how reform should be approached. "On health care, the American people think we need to get back to the basics and start over," he said. "I think we ought to do a step-by-step approach. For example, we know by allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and forming risk pools across state lines that we can open accessibility to affordable health care for almost a third of the uninsured. We know that a third of the uninsured are really eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or SCHIP but they're not enrolled. The government ought to have an enrollment system so when they show up at healthcare facilities the coverage is there....I would rather start with a step-by-step approach that deals with the things we know we can do rather than a comprehensive and pervasive overhaul of a system that ends up destroying what 86 percent of Americans have, all for the 14 percent who don't."
Finally, the American Medical Association, which has with some reservations supported the healthcare reform legislation stated: "The AMA applauds President Obama for his ongoing commitment to health system reform and we second his call to 'Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.' Every American will benefit from health insurance market reforms that eliminate unfair business practices like denials for pre-existing medical conditions. It is a tragedy that millions of Americans live sicker and die younger solely because they lack health coverage -- every American should have affordable, high-quality health coverage. The pressures on our healthcare system have not abated; people are losing their health coverage along with their jobs and the rising cost of premiums is putting pressure on employers and familie