WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has delivered 262 speeches since he took office nearly eight months ago, 28 of them specifically about health care reform. The one health care speech that Obama will be remembered for, however, was delivered to a rare joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, one of 52 fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House, said in a telephone interview after the speech that he will not decide whether he will vote in favor of the reform package until he sees the final bill. He also voiced concerns about possible cuts to Medicare as a relatively high number of Mainers rely heavily on the federal program for their health care.
“We have to make certain that the cuts will not affect the services that those elderly and other people who need them are receiving,” Michaud said.
Michaud also noted the blunt criticism Obama laid out on what Michaud referred to as “conservative groups who are just trying to scare the American people” by dropping terms like “death panel” into the national conversation.
“He did hit those who were opposed to health care reform pretty hard,” Michaud said, “and he probably realized that if he gets any support on the Republican side, it’ll be very little.”
Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, part of the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan Gang of Six, has spoken out against the public option, which the president mentioned, but did not explicitly endorse.
“I would have preferred that the issue [of a public insurance option] were taken off the table as I have urged the president — given that any bill with a public option will not pass the Senate — and this divisive subject is unnecessarily delaying our ability to reach common ground,” Snowe said in a statement.
She added that she was “encouraged” to hear that the “trigger” option she has championed is still on the table. With this option, a safety net of further health care savings measures would be implemented if private insurers fail to provide affordable health care after an initial health care bill is passed.
“Moving forward,” she said, “I will continue my work within the Gang of Six to produce a consensus bill that will curb spiraling health care costs and ensure the health security of all Americans.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins voiced concerns about the cost of reform in a statement issued after the speech, saying that “any reforms must also take into account our country’s exploding national debt” and citing the Congressional Budget Office’s $1.6 trillion price tag over the next decade.
“[Health care reform] affects every American and one-sixth of our economy,” she said.
Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement that she was pleased with Obama’s speech.
“In many ways it’s the same message I have heard from people in Maine all summer — the time has come to bring about the reform we’ve been talking about for so long,” Pingree said. “Maine people have had it with the bureaucracy of insurance companies, skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, and they are tired of living in fear of losing their health insurance.”