September 10, 2009

Profs Praise and Critique Obama Health Care Speech

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Last night, in a rare address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama issued yet another appeal to Congress and the American public regarding his highly controversial healthcare reform. Despite his “excellent” delivery, several Cornell professors expressed reservations on the actual impact of the speech.
In his remarks, the president emphasized the importance and timeliness of healthcare reform since “health care represents one-sixth of our economy.”
He began by outlining some of the current problems facing our healthcare system, including the concern that “if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you’ll lose your health insurance.”
“We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren’t any added. Consequently, he seeks to promote a plan that will increase quality of care and reduce cost for Americans.
Obama then addressed how to reform the system. In an attempt to appease both sides of the aisle, he said: “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.”
Obama emphasized that those who are currently covered by health insurance will not be obligated to change plans; He even estimated that less than 5 percent of Americans would actually alter their coverage. Obama’s health care plan will also deem it illegal if an insurance company denies coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, he suggested that there will be “a new insurance exchange” that will take the form of “a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices.”
Additionally, he explained that “individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.”
The president also sought to respond to some of the recent attacks raised by his opponents. He addressed the supposed “government takeover of the entire healthcare system” and the notion of insuring illegal aliens, both of which he declared “lies.” He asserted that no federal funding would be used for abortions.
Obama’s speech was disrupted when, according to The New York Times, one Republican lawmaker shouted “Lies!” in response to Obama’s statements.
To conclude, the president emphasized the moral imperative of healthcare reform. Citing the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), he said, “What we face … is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”
Professors and students in the Cornell community watched the speech with considerable attention.
Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, said, “His speeches are always excellent and I thought tonight’s was no different. But it doesn’t make public policy very well. He still hasn’t asserted leadership in the U.S. Congress and Congress has taken the initiative on this thing. He’s late.”
Regarding the public option, Lowi believes that it is still very far down the road. However, he predicts that eventually there will be one.
“He’s making it more difficult for himself by alluding to the public option when he already has it right in front of him [in the form of Medicare and Medicaid]. If Obama can get two-thirds of the items passed in the bill, he won’t experience a loss like the Clintons did.”
However, Lowi remains skeptical about Obama’s plan.
“I’m always suspicious when you’re being overcome by a lot of good options. My hopes are high but my expectations are down,” he added.
Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, agreed that it was an “amazing” speech.
“I think [the speech] was really effective coming from a very gifted president. I say that not out of partisan bias, I hope, but just out of 30 years of assessing the presidency,” Sanders said. “I came away thinking [his plan] might be doable.”
Saunders, however, also expressed her reservations.
“It doesn’t mean he’ll pull it off. I don’t know if it’ll work, but he did the best he could’ve done,” she said.
The leaders of the Cornell Democrats and the Cornell College Republicans also paid close attention to last night’s speech.
“I thought he did a great job,” said Dan Smith ’10, vice president of Cornell Democrats. “We were really excited that the president gave the most forceful and steadfast defense of healthcare reform yet.”
Smith believes the healthcare speech is also relevant for students.
“This is an issue that is going to particularly affect students when they graduate, when they’re looking for jobs,” Smith said.
“My personal opinion is that it’s worth losing an election over,” he added.
On the other hand, Grace Macrae ’11, executive director of the College Republicans, expressed a different point of view.
“Barack painted a very pretty picture. He was focused on appeasing a lot of people, but I think the proposed plans are naïve. He sugar-coated a lot of things.”
However, the Cornell College Republicans were pleased about the exclusion of illegal aliens from coverage and federal funding from abortions. But they were concerned that if the government places too many restrictions on the private companies, they may begin to function like government agencies.
“It’s stifling the free market by limiting what private insurers can do,” Macrae said.
“I think there are ways to insure everyone,” she said, “without bankrupting the government.”
However, as Cornellians have alluded, the impact of Obama’s speech on the proposed healthcare plan remains to be seen.