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Obama’s insurance option

David Swanson of Democrats.com and author of a new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" gives his take on Obama’s congressional speech. Produced by Ania Smolenskaia

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Story Transcript

ANIA SMOLENSKAIA, TRNN: In a speech delivered before Congress, President Obama has presented his vision for the health-care reform. He spoke extensively about the need for this reform, its cost, and provisions necessary in order to achieve it.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Our health-care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close. We know we must reform the system. The question is how. There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada’s, where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn’t, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.

SMOLENSKAIA: The Real News spoke to David Swanson of Democrats.com, author of a new book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.

DAVID SWANSON, DEMOCRATS.COM: The president did not make the case that we have Medicare, that Medicare was put through very swiftly, and has been incredibly effective, and has an overhead of about 3 percent compared to about 30 percent for the health-insurance companies. Instead, he focused on the problems with Medicare that need to be fixed. I think he loses the discussion, he loses the debate, by failing to talk about single-payer and Medicare and the advantages of moving in that direction. That kind of talk would make a strong public option a compromise. Instead, he talks about single-payer as a sort of crazy ideological extremism, and free marketism on the other side, and he’s going to find the middle ground, which gives us something probably short of a serious, immediate public option.

SMOLENSKAIA: The president outlined the main points central to the health-care reform debated in the House and Senate.

OBAMA: The plan I’m announcing tonight would meet three basic goals. It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. And here’s what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future.

SWANSON: He made a beautiful speech about health care, but he didn’t make hard commitments in that speech to anything truly valuable. And where he did make a firm commitment, where he took a real moral stand, was in swearing that he would not sign a bill if it cost any money�if the thing cost us any money. Now, to his credit, amazingly, he mentioned twice that the Iraq War cost money, which is a well-kept secret in Washington, and he mentioned once that the tax cuts for the very, very wealthy and to the corporate in this country cost a lot of money. That’s to his credit. But he didn’t mention the bankster bailouts, which cost more; he didn’t mention his escalation and continuation of these wars; he didn’t mention the largest military budget in the history of the universe that he pushed through earlier this year. So he’s gone partway. But then, when it comes to healthcare, it’s all about the money. And I think that’s disgraceful that we’re taking a moral stand on not spending money, rather than taking a moral stand on giving people health care. And if the best we’re going to get at this moment is the public option, then he ought to have taken a stand for it and said, I will not sign a bill that does not contain a strong and immediate public option. He didn’t say that.

OBAMA: An additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. For decades the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance-company abuses and make coverage available for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. For example, some have suggested that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others have proposed a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring.

SWANSON: He talked about the public option as something he liked, as a possibility, one of many, and as something that could be delayed for years, could be set to trigger should we actually have a health-care crisis, as if we don’t now. The whole thing could be delayed for years. And as something that people would buy into, not something that would be provided to everyone as a right, as health care should be.

SMOLENSKAIA: Back in July, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) vowed they would not vote for a bill that does not include a robust public option. But upon their return from recess, some progressives have indicated their willingness to compromise. In response to these statements, Congressman Raul Grijalva, a cochair of CPC, stated that a trigger would be a surrender.

SWANSON: When these Congress members have made a commitment [to] activist groups, to the public whip list at Firedoglake, their constituents have understood them to mean something immediate, something strong and substantial, not what the president talked about. The president talked about something that the insurance companies need have absolutely no fear of, and that people would have to buy into years from now. President Bush mangled the English language, but if you think of what the term "robust" is going to have to mean after this, that is a destruction of a perfectly good word. There is nothing robust in what’s being discussed now. So we need serious commitments and we need good faith. And when these Congress members promised to vote "no" if there was not a robust public option, they clearly communicated something better than what it looks like they are prepared to accept. So I’m not incredibly confident, but I think the door remains open. I don’t want a president to have the power to do this alone. I don’t want the Congress to listen to the president right or wrong. I want the Congress to listen to the people. And so I think it’s up to people now to tell the Congress the president said some good things, but we want action, and we want at least a very strong public option, we want to see a bill that really moves us forward. Otherwise, if the progressives fold again, this will be disastrous.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.