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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
President Obama's Address
Aired September 9, 2009 - 19:45 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're less than 15 minutes away from the president's address from a joint session of congress on health care reform, a pivotal speech, a speech that the president will try to underscore, to determine that millions of Americans Campbell Brown need health insurance, they want health insurance and he's got an idea how to make life better for Americans. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, Campbell Brown is here as well.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: So many people are saying this is a make or break moment for the president, the speech tonight being described as a call to action. I think one of the big questions is are we going to hear from the president specifics, so many people have challenged him to really deliver specifics on what he needs to see on any kind of final bill. And the question is will we hear that from him in the speech tonight?
BLITZER: He says enough of the bickering, enough of the games, now time for action, now time for specifics, he wants this legislation to get through.
We're looking at the presidential motorcade now making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue over to Capitol Hill. The president will be walking in to the U.S. congress within the next few seconds, Campbell, what a majestic shot as we take a look at what the president is about to do. The first lady is there with a lot of special VIPs, she's invited to sit with her up in the gallery as we get ready for the president's address. This is an address the president has been working on now for days and days. He decided he needs this he needs this desperately if he's going to get health care reform in some vision he wants enacted. He needs to reach out not only to members of congress but the American people and convince them that he knows what he's doing, that what he's doing will help them. He'll be sitting the vice president with the speaker Nancy Pelosi right behind the president. We'll be seeing them standing off as they interrupt with a standing ovation.
I want to go to our correspondent Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, she's actually in the chamber right now. Tell our viewers where you are and what it's like in there.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm up in the press gallery and I have a bird's-eye view of what's going on as we speak. Members of the senate are being greeted by members of the house and just watching the members kind of milling around and talking to one of their before hand, before the senate came in, it really is, it's really illustrated the problem and the challenge that the president has and it's specifically with his own party and looking at liberal Democrats like Lund Woolsey who have said absolutely no health care reform without a government-run option. And on the other side, they're saying we can't do this, we can't sell something like to our conservative constituencies, you really do feel a sense of anticipation, because it's not just the president's political viability that's at stake here, it's each and every member of congress. Because particularly for these Democrats, they understand what happened 15 and 16 years ago when President Clinton failed. They understand that he wasn't the one who lost; many of members of congress are the one who is lost their seats. That is why this is such a pivotal moment not just for the president, but for every member of congress in here and in particular the big majority that was swept in with President Obama back in November.
BLITZER: At least once a year at the state of the union address when a president addresses a joint session of congress, this is a rare moment indeed, but one the president decided he desperately need right now to try to turn things around and get some momentum going for health care reform. Let's walk over to Campbell Brown; she's got the best political team on television getting ready to assess what's going on. We're only moments away, Campbell.
BROWN: Let me introduce everybody who's going to be with us throughout the night. Ed Rollins, and David Gergen with us as well, Paul Begala, Candy Crowley and Gloria Borger. And Candy, let me start with you, this is the second time he's delivered a joint -- a speech to the joint session of congress, the first was during the stimulus debate. The stakes were so high as he made that pitch, what are the stakes tonight?
CROWLEY: I think game changer may go too far. I think the president has a chance to sort of has a chance to retake the conversation. They don't call it the bully pulpit for nothing. He has a chance to say, here's where it is, here's where it isn't. But to suggest tonight that he could change the game and make everyone go, yeah, let's go, I think, is wrong. I think what happens now may be the beginning of a pivot, but I don't think it's the pivot itself. Because he's got to crack heads behind closed doors. He's got to get those Democrats on board that Dana was talking about.
GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But he's also really talking to people outside the chamber. Very much an outside game tonight. Because he's seen the polls drop. People are confused about health care reform. He's got to convince senior citizens that this isn't going to cut their Medicare and he has to convince people who have access to health insurance, who get good care that this is also in their own interests and will make their insurance bills go down. He's got to convince the public.
BROWN: And Paul, this is a man who is known for his communication skills. And yet there are a lot of people who have said he has bungled this message. I mean, how did we get to this point, where this speech is coming after what happened in august with the town halls and that kind of debate. PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The guy can't win for losing. My old boss, Bill Clinton, could give a good speech too, but the conventional wisdom is he engaged too much, too early. So this president, we all said prudently, let congress take the lead, and guess what, that became too. The truth is, it's a really hard issue. And what's different, not that the president will give a good speech. My boss gave a good speech 16 years ago and he didn't have a teleprompter for part of it. The difference is the audience on the hill, Dana's right, in 1993, a senior Democrat in congress told me, this health care bill is your boss' problem, not mine. Okay, today, congressional Democrats understand that it is their rear end that's on the line in 2010. And if they fail here, they're the ones that will pay the price, not Barack Obama. I think that difference will be the game changer, not the speech.
BROWN: David, do you think it was a mistake, though, for him to lay out these broad outlines rather than sort of taking ownership of it from the beginning?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In retrospect, yes. I think it's pretty clear that he over learned the lessons of the Clinton years, that had he had joint ownership with the congress, he would have had a smoother process, but I don't think this is all just about process. It's also about substance. There are a lot of people in this country who simply have objected for decade after decade to what they see as the government taking a large role or taking over health care. And that's why so many presidents have tried to climb this mountain and none has yet succeeded. Barack Obama, so far, has come closer than any in the past. But it's still a steep mountain climb.
ROLLINS: The critical thing here for this president tonight is not just the substance, which he needs to give more substance than he's done and he has to introduce something new. Either it's a malpractice tort reform or something like that.
BROWN: Something Republicans have been pushing for.
ROLLINS: Or the public option is sacred, I'm not going to back away from it. But I think what's happened to this president, possibly because of high expectations, is day by day, his leadership quality has dripped away and Democrats are saying, this guy is not running with the ball the way we want him to.
BROWN: Wolf, we've seen some excerpts from the speech released earlier, but we're still waits on specifics.
BLITZER: Yeah, the excerpts didn't tell us a whole lot. Hopefully we'll get a lot more specifics in what's expected to be a 40 or 45-minute address by the president. Wherever we deal with health- related issues, medical issues, we always want to speak to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who himself is a neurosurgeon. He's on assignment for us right now in Kandahar, Afghanistan. But Sanjay, before we talk about that later tonight on "A.C. 360," what about the president's address right now? What does he need to say to congress and the American people?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- focused on what the president's going to say tonight. We're in a battlefield hospital right now. People talking about this, even for the last several hours, a lot of confusion still. That may be the first starting point in terms of what he has to do. What exactly is the plan that we're talking about. Even doctors, nurses here that I've been talking to aren't quite sure on that. I think the second thing, and this has come up over and over again, is this idea that there's a lot of people who have health care insurance. What exactly is this going to mean for them, this new bill, is it going to somehow change the safety of their health care insurance they have now, the security of it in some way? Also, when you talk about guaranteed access for health care insurance, since the campaign, the candidate Obama talked about trying to decrease costs and increasing access. Doing those two things simultaneously. He's always talked about this idea of bending the cost curve downward. How do you do that while increasing access? That's another question that people have told me they want to see addressed. These are some of the issues that seem to come up over and over again, but I think that there's been a lot of concern, again, from people who have insurance, Medicare recipients, is this new plan going to affect them somehow and if it's not, he has to make that point very clearly. Is he going to emphasize what he's been saying all along, or is he going to go in a little bit of a different direction tonight? We don't know.
BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta reporting for us from Kandahar, Afghanistan. He'll have a lot more on what's happening in the war zone with the troops later on "A.C. 360," 10:00 p.m. eastern. Anderson and Sanjay, Michael Ware, Peter Bergen, they're doing amazing reporting. They're risking their lives. We'll want to see their reports later tonight, 10:00 p.m. eastern, "A.C. 360." let's go to our senior white house correspondent, Ed Henry right now.
Ed, as important as this speech is going to be, it's not the end of the deal by any means. The president will have to follow up tomorrow and the next day and days to come if he wants this passed?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. You're right. Many people might think this is the end, but it's really the beginning. CNN has just learned that the president is planning to invite more than a dozen centrist Democratic senators here to the white house tomorrow, right after this speech. Try to get some momentum, but also as candy was referring to, get them behind closed doors. These are the decision makers, the folks who are sitting on the fence. Many of east centrist senate Democrats, people like Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, they don't want a public option. So the president needs to get them in a room after delivering this speech here at the white house and say, what is it going to take to get your vote? What do you think? How do we move forward? I'm also told that earlier today, the white house chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was up on Capitol Hill, working the same group of centrist senate Democrats. Again, it shows how this white house is going to have to move very quickly from the rhetoric tonight to the reality of the lobbying, the nose count, the one on one strong arms in some case, the tactics this president's going to have to use to bring his own Democrats along, Wolf.
BLITZER: He's got a real problem, not necessarily with the Republicans, most of whom, if not all of who are going to oppose him, but the Democrats, he'll need all of them, every single one of them if he wants to get this passed. Campbell, the president is going to say in the excerpts that have already been released that the bickering is over, but I suspect the bickering may only just be beginning.
BROWN: I think you're right about that. And let me go to the panel just for a moment at least and get your take on the one thing we've spent a lot of time talking about and that is the public option. And a lot of people anticipate tonight, Gloria, that he's going to say the public option is preferable, but not essential. What does that mean if that's the message?
BORGER: It means that he's going to say, this is what I support, but we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And if you've got a better idea, show it to me, right? But one more thing, Campbell, he's also got to make it clear that he's really trying to attack the deficit issue, that he's not going to let this get -- cost trillions of dollars. And we're told that he's going to propose a fiscal trigger, so if spending gets out of control on health care, he's going to make some cuts. So he's going to try and show the American public that he hears the message on the deficit.
BROWN: But does this mean, going back to the question, David, the public option, it's dead if he says that?
GERGEN: Listen, I agree with that, but it's really hard to blow the bugle and say, follow me up the hill. And say, by the way, I may not want to go all the way up the hill. That's hard to do.
BROWN: Is that ultimately the message that's going to be delivered?
BEGALA: No, I think he's going to hammer the health insurance companies and by extension, the Republicans who support their agenda, say that this is a more preferable option, but he cannot, ought not, and will not say I will veto any bill that has that in it.
BORGER: But he knows those liberals are safe.
ROLLINS: Nobody thinks they're safe. 20 may think they're safe.
BEGALA: At the worst of the town hall meetings for the Democrats, the most excitement, 62 percent of Americans in the Quinnipiac poll still support a public option. Only 46 percent support Obama on health care. So the public option's doing a lot better than President Obama.
CROWLEY: It also depends on how you ask the question, too. Because there's some disagreement of what actually a public option is. I think that the president signals tonight that the public option is gone, if you talk to people on Capitol Hill. They just don't see a way on the senate side that they can get this through. Which sets up your general Democrats in the house versus Democrats in the senate sort of fight. But if the idea is you have to get something, the liberals are more likely to go with the president than the conservatives and moderates are to go with him.
BROWN: We will see, as the speech is about to begin, Wolf?
BLITZER: The vice president, the president of the senate, Joe Biden, the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. They're going through some of the parliamentary maneuvers necessary to get this rare joint session of congress going. The members from the House of Representatives, the members from the United States senate, they're in place. Members of the cabinet are going to be inside. Other special guests, the first lady has a whole list of special guests sitting with her up in the gallery, including Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. This is a day the president will remember for a long time to come.
Momentarily, we will hear those words, Madam Speaker, the president of the United States. President Obama will be introduced as he walks into this chamber. In fact, they're getting ready to introduce members of the cabinet and others. Let's listen in as the sergeant of arms gets ready for the first of several announcements, always an exciting moment for those of us who love Washington, love this process, love seeing what's going on Capitol Hill. This is all very, very carefully choreographed. Every single second has been carefully weighed as they get ready for the introduction of the president of the United States. Once he walks through that door, he'll be greeted by members on both sides of the aisle and he will have a chance to shake hands.
Among those invited, the ambassadors of the embassies, all the countries represented in Washington. They will have VIP seats on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as well.
The members of the Cabinet will be introduced. This is one of those moments that -- that certainly sparks a lot of excitement.
One thing we should be aware of, once the president speaks, he will be, of course, warmly received by Republicans and Democrats. But, once he gets into some of the more controversial aspects of his carefully crafted address, the Democrats, no doubt, will stand, give him standing ovations, rousing applause, Republicans, not so much. Most of them will be quiet.
They will be polite. This is not like the British parliament. But they will certainly not necessarily stand up and giving him those standing ovations.
There's the first lady, Michelle Obama. She's walking up in the gallery right now. And, as we say, she's invited several guests, including people who have special health care-related issues.
You see Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president, getting a hug from Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who said it was his cause, health care reform. He didn't live to see it enacted by the United States Congress, but he worked very hard over decades to try to get it passed.
One thing the president will say tonight is that so many presidents have tried to enact health care reform. He hopes he will be the last president that has to try. He's going to try his best to get it approved.
There she is, Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States, a very, very popular figure in Washington, as we all know, popular among Democrats and Republicans.
Campbell, as we get ready for those dramatic announcements of the members of the Cabinet and eventually the president, let's listen to the speaker.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, the president's Cabinet.
BLITZER: There's the dean, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the most senior Cabinet position, followed by the secretary of the treasury, Timothy Geithner, then the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, and then the attorney general, Eric Holder.
And then they go on, as the Cabinet departments were created. The first department was that of the secretary -- the Department of State, followed by the Department of the Treasury. So, they're walking in. They're getting ready. They will be seated and, of course, they will be enthusiastic as the president gets ready to deliver his speech.
Campbell, Paul Begala made reference to what happened 16 years ago, when the then-President Bill Clinton spoke on health care reform, delivered a speech.
Maybe Paul wants to tell us what happened, because the speech that was in the teleprompter was not the speech he was supposed to be delivering that night.
BEGALA: No, the president was editing the speech in the car, Wolf, even going to the Capitol Building, and so the White House communications agency that runs those teleprompters had to use a seven-month-old economic speech just to see if the plates worked and the teleprompter worked.
So, when we rushed in with his speech, the final edits that were made in the car, plugged it into the teleprompter, we didn't delete the old speech that was in there, because we didn't know it was in there. So, it all became one, long, endless -- he would have given both speeches, gladly, I'm sure.
But it became one -- and, so, the first nine minutes of that speech, he had no teleprompter. In fact, he had last year's speech whizzing forwards and backwards in front of him.
BROWN: And you would never know.
BLITZER: And, Campbell, we have a little clip of that. I just want to briefly -- let's play that. It brings back a lot of memories, what shouldn't have happened. Right. He's telling the vice president, Al Gore, you know what, I got the wrong script in the teleprompter. That's why I'm sort of ad-libbing.
It was -- he was good at it though, Paul, I have to admit. A lot of people watching around the world had no idea.
BEGALA: It was remarkable. The only person in the room who I know noticed anything different was his daughter, Chelsea, who, as soon as the speech was over, said, dad, what was going on at the beginning of that speech?
But he was -- you know, he was a terrific extemporizer. He had spent hours and hours on the speech. Knew it inside and out. He knew what was doing.
And, later, I asked him what it felt like to stand there with no teleprompter, and the backup text, by the way, was in tiny type that he couldn't read without his glasses. And I had taken his glasses, because they bulged his coat. And he said, I thought to myself, well, lord, you're testing me.
BEGALA: Well, OK, here goes.
And on he went.
BLITZER: And he did an amazing job, although in the end, he didn't get health care reform enacted, and the Democrats lost both houses of Congress in that first midterm election in '94. That's history that President Obama does not want to repeat.
David, you were there during those early years.
GERGEN: And I watched Paul valiantly working through this.
It's important to remember, when Bill Clinton went and did give his speech in September, the numbers in favor of health care went up. He substantially helped himself early on. It was the withering attacks that came later that brought it down. But he made that work. And I think -- still think that's the test of President Obama tonight.
BORGER: Well, it's reverse timing. You know, Obama is giving the speech after he suffered the withering attacks this summer, right? So, the timing, in a way, may work to this president's advantage.
BROWN: Those kind of -- those lines of attack, the death panels, the things that we heard at the town halls all summer, are Republicans going to continue sort of that tack going forward?
ROLLINS: I would hope that they would argue on the merits, because there are a lot of very significant differences and viewpoints and value systems.
I mean, you're having a mandate, mandating to young people that they have to have insurance, and it's going to be a very expensive proposition, when the argument at the end of the day is you're going to get less for more, and the insurance companies are not going to have cheaper rates if they have to cover all this stuff.
So, I think, to a certain extent, there are a lot of substantiative issues we can fight about. The key thing here, I think, is that you're going to have a lot of panic. It's the worst season you could have. It's an election season, in which you have got a bunch of people who aren't sure they're going to get reelected. And that's always a scary part of the process.
BROWN: And that's the danger here tonight.
ROLLINS: We also have five bills. We don't have a single bill that we're arguing about at this point.
CROWLEY: And it's hard, really. And I think that's the problem. It's hard really to know.
And from what we have seen of the excerpts, there are not enough specifics in there to say, oh, this is how the bill is going to take shape. So, it can change down the road, as we all know, lots of times on Capitol Hill.
And, as Paul reminds me, there is, in the Senate, the option to just go ahead and do reconciliation and only get 51 votes. And if they can do that and if they decide to do that, then that that is very good news for a public option. And he's right.
ROLLINS: There will be one senator who will fight it very strenuously. And that's Senator Byrd, who basically feels very, very strongly and is going to be a very important -- when you do need 60, he's the dean of the Senate. And he's the ultimate parliamentarian.
BEGALA: Well, but they're committed to getting this by hook or by crook, I think. And the president's likely to say this tonight, that he really prefers bipartisanship. He really wants it. They're really courting Olympia Snowe. I think they are going to name Camp David after her, Camp Olympia.
BEGALA: But if they can't get her, at least -- and, with her, you will probably get four or five wavering Democrats -- then they will go by hook...
(CROSSTALK) BORGER: They will take anything and call it a victory, right? They will call it a victory.
And they all -- if you talk to folks at the White House, they say between the House bills and the Senate bills, there's 70 to 80 percent on agreement on a lot of areas, mostly dealing with insurance reform. Insurance reform is very popular in this country, getting rid of preexisting conditions, very popular.
GERGEN: But let me go back to this. I think if this were going to be decided tonight in this chamber, they could come up with a deal, they could get a vote for it, and they would get it through.
The problem they have still got is if the country, if the public...
BORGER: The public.
GERGEN: ... is opposed to what shapes up as the deal, then it becomes much harder to pass it. And that's why his main audience tonight is not in the hall. His main audience is to see if he can convince a lot of Americans to go with him on this, not to be a game- changer, perhaps, Candy, but to reverse the tide.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, to take control of the conversation, absolutely. I'm not saying it won't do anything. I'm just saying you can't all of a sudden get health care after a great speech tonight.
BORGER: But I also think his challenge is to kind of lay down some areas which he feels strongly about and this is the Obama plan. Because he has been so ambiguous, the country is confused. You say, do you support health care reform, they say, well, I'm not quite sure what the president is supporting at this point. So, tonight, they have to do that without getting so specific.
BROWN: But, to that point, how do you do that? If everyone's demanding specifics, and including the American people, how do you strike that balance?
BORGER: I'm told the speech started out a lot more specific than it ended up, because they don't want to alienate lots of people that they need, like the liberals in the House. But they do have those moderates.
CROWLEY: If you have 12 specifics, you also have 12 targets on you. And then it becomes, if you don't get them, it's sort of more and more your failure. Presidents don't like to take ownership of specifics until the very last part of the process.
(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: Paul would know this better than anybody here. It's really hard to give a speech with too many objectives in it for the speech. You have to have one or two objectives and go for them.
BROWN: And, so, what should the one or two objectives be, David?
BORGER: Insurance reform.
GERGEN: I think it ought to be simplicity and persuasion that this is good for you personally and wise for the country.
And I think the rest of it -- if you try to have all the specifics and sort out the moderates and the liberals, you can't do six things in a speech. It becomes a mishmash.
BROWN: But how do you make the case that this is good for you and good for the country when you see these polls that say the vast majority of Americans are happy with what they have right now.
You're asking them to sacrifice...
CROWLEY: Well, you say, this could happen to anybody. You may have a great plan right now, but we want to cover -- you might get sick tomorrow and your insurance company might drop you. We're going to stop that.
ROLLINS: There's a danger. There's 46 million on Medicare and there's 20 million more going on Medicare. That's the danger point.
If you don't convince them that they're going to have what they have today, they're going to be a very angry constituency.
BROWN: All right.
BLITZER: The sergeant of arms is about to introduce the president of the United States. There he is. He's standing in the hall. He will be walking in, getting an enthusiastic response. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, the president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor to present to you the president of the United States.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you.
OBAMA: Please, be seated.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
OBAMA: Please, be seated.
Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, and the American people:
When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month, credit was frozen, and our financial system was on the verge of collapse.
As any American who is still looking for work or a way to pay their bills will tell you, we are by no means out of the woods. A full and vibrant recovery is still many months away. And I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Until -- until those -- until those businesses that seek capital and credit can thrive. Until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes. That it our ultimate goal. But thanks to the bold and decisive action we've taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Now, I want to thank the members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who have taken the difficult votes that have put us on the path to recovery.
I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our nation.
But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came here to build a future. So...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future, and that is the issue of health care.
I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform.
And ever since, nearly every president and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell, Sr. , in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Our collective failure to meet this challenge year after year, decade after decade, has led us to the breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed and can't afford it since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer.
Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or too expensive to cover.
We are the only democracy, the only advanced democracy on Earth, the only wealthy nation that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two-year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage.
In other words, it can happen to anyone.
But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem for the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today.
More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance, too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it.
Another woman, from Texas, was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size.
That is heartbreaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Then there's the problem of rising costs. We spend one- and-a- half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages.
It's why so many employers, especially small businesses, are forcing their employers -- employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely.
It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally, like our automakers, are at a huge disadvantage.
And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it, about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.
Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Now, these are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how. Now, 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 -- where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everybody.
On the right, there are those who argue that we should end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.
I have said -- I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both these approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. 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.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the several -- past several months. During that time, we've seen Washington at its best and at its worst. We've seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week.
That has never happened before.
Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses, hospitals, seniors' groups, and even drug companies -- many of whom opposed reform in the past.
And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.
But what we've also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we've seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.
Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Now's the time to deliver on health care.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Now's the time to deliver on health care.
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.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge -- not just government, not just insurance companies, but everybody, including employers and individuals.
And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from senators and congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans, and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.
Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan.
First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or the V. A. , nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Let me -- let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.
What this plan will do is make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of- pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick.
And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies.
Because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse.
That makes sense. It saves money, and it saves lives.
That's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan: more security and more stability.
Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you...
... if you lose your job or you change your job, you'll be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you'll be able to get coverage. We'll do this by creating a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices.
Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we give ourselves.
Now, for those individuals and small businesses who still can't afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we'll provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need.
And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned.
This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have preexisting medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill.
This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign; it's a good idea now, and we should all embrace it.
Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those, and especially the young and the healthy, who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers by giving them coverage.
The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for these people's expensive emergency room visits.
If some businesses don't provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors.
And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek, especially requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, just can't be achieved.
That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance -- just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.
Likewise -- likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers.
There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements.
But we can't have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees.
Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part. And while there remains some significant details to be ironed out, I believe...
... I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance; an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage; and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.
And I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole.
Still, given all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months, I realize -- I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight, I want to address some of the key controversies that are still out there.
Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.
Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie plain and simple.
Now, there are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.
(UNKNOWN): That's a lie.
That's not true.
And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up: under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.
Now, my health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a "government takeover" of the entire health care system.
Now, as proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly- sponsored insurance option, administered by the government, just like Medicaid or Medicare. So let me set the record straight here.
My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there's choice and competition. That's how the market works.
Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90 percent is controlled by just one company.
And without competition, the price of insurance goes up and quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly -- by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates.
Insurance executives don't do this because they're bad people. They do it because it's profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill, they are rewarded for it.
All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."
Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable.
And the insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that, but 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.
Now, let me -- let me be clear.
Let me be clear, it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.
Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government, and they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option, but they won't be. I've insisted that, like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums its collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits and excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers and would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.
Now, it is...
It's -- it's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated by the left or the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and shouldn't be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles.
To my progressive friends, I would remind you that 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 -- the public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.
And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.
For example -- 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. But I will not back down on the basic principle that, if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice.
And -- and I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.
Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public, and that's how we pay for this plan.
Now, 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.
I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future -- period.
I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promise don't materialize.
Now, part of the reason I faced a trillion-dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for, from the Iraq war to tax breaks for the wealthy.
I will not make that same mistake with health care.
Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system, a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care don't make us any healthier. That's not my judgment. It's the judgment of medical professionals across this country.
And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, I want to speak directly to seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.
More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years.
That's how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. And that...
That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.
The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies...
... subsidies that do everything to pad their profits, but don't improve the care of seniors.
And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.
Now, these steps will ensure that you -- America's seniors -- get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pockets for prescription drugs.
That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut -- especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past...
... and just this year supported a budget that would essentially have turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program.
That will not happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.
Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody.
We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at costs below average.
So the commission can help encourage the adoption of these common-sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system -- everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.
Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Now, much...
Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers.
And this reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money -- an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts.
And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long run.
Now, finally, many in this chamber, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the costs of health care.
Now -- there you go.
There you go.
Now, I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I've talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So -- so -- so I'm proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know...
... I know that the Bush administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these ideas. I think it's a good idea, and I'm directing my secretary of health and human services to move forward on this initiative today.
Now, add it all up and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years, less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.
Now, most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent -- but spent badly -- in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of 1 percent each year -- one-tenth of 1 percent -- it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.
Now, this is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight -- Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.
But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it.
I won't stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in this plan, we will call you out. And I will not...
And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time; not now.
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result.
We know these things to be true.
That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed -- the ones who suffer silently and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.
I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.
In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight.
And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform -- "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it -- would finally pass.
He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things."
"What we face," he wrote, "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."
One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom, and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That's our history.
For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government. But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here -- people of both parties -- know that what drove him was something more.
His friend, Orrin Hatch, he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend, John McCain, knows that. They worked together on a patients' bill of rights. His friend, Chuck Grassley, knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.
On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience -- the experience of having two children stricken with cancer.
He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it'd be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, "There is something that could make you better, but I just can't afford it."
That large-heartedness, that concern and regard for the plight of others is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character.
Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together, that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play. And an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.
This has always been the history of our progress.
In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism. But the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it.
In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not back down.
They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.
You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom.
But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited.
And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter -- that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.
That was true then. It remains true today.
I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road, to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.
But that is not what this moment calls for.
That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard.
I still believe...
... I still believe that we can act when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things and that here and now we will meet history's test, because that's who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.
Thank you. God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking for about 45 minutes, making his case for health care reform. Making his case, he strongly, strongly stated statements on all the most controversial issues, insisting that he still would like to see a government- sponsored public option, allowing a public insurance company, in effect, to compete with private insurance companies; also, reaching out to Republicans, arguing with them that something should be done about malpractice lawsuits; and he says he's willing to test some new ideas. He's also promising that his proposals will not raise the deficit.
Dana Bash, our senior Congressional correspondent, is in there -- Dana, he got sort of political. He made some tough statements. And some of the Republicans responded with some tough words of their own. In fact, one congressman -- a Republican congressman, could be heard saying "You lie".
BASH: That's right. It was very clearly heard, "You lie." Harder to see from my vantage point. We have a pretty good idea of who this congressman -- Republican congressman was. But we want to wait to be absolutely sure before we -- we name him, so to speak, and call him out on that. Another -- another Congressman held up a sign, in fact, just another show of protest. I'm not sure if you could see it on the television cameras, but you could clearly see it here in the chamber. Several Republicans -- this was preplanned -- several Republicans held up copies of House Republican health care plans at times, when the president talked about the fact that maybe they didn't have ideas or, more specifically, at one point when the president said that his door is always open. The Republicans waving their plans to not so subtly signal that they do have -- that they do have ideas and they wish that the president would -- would engage them.
So, you know, there were definitely lines here where Republicans were on their feet along with Democrats. But certainly at the beginning and toward the end, it was strikingly, strikingly partisan. And you could -- it was really illustrated in watching the floor of the House of Representatives, because it is divided by Democrats and Republicans. One side was standing up the other side was sitting down.
But back on that, very quickly, on that moment where that Republican congressman screamed "You lie," what he was responding to, Wolf, was a line where the president said that people who are illegal immigrants -- that they would not be insured. That was where you heard "You lie." And Democrats were not very happy about it. They actually booed him.
BLITZER: And the president of the United States said anyone who charges he supports these death panels, he says it is a lie plain and simple.
The Republican response is now going to be delivered by Representative Charles Boustany. He's the congressman from Louisiana, himself a former cardiac surgeon.
Let's go to the Strom Thurmond Room on the Senate side.
REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY (R), LOUISIANA: Good evening. I'm Dr. Charles Boustany, and I'm proud to serve the people of Louisiana's 7th congressional district. I'm also a heart surgeon, with more than 20 years of experience during which I saw firsthand the need for lowering health cost.
Republicans are pleased that President Obama came to the Capitol tonight. We agree much needs to be done to lower the cost of health care for all Americans.
On that goal, Republicans are ready, and we've been ready to work with the president for common-sense reforms that our nation can afford.
"Afford" is an important word. Our country's facing many challenges. The cost of health care is rising. Federal spending is soaring. We're piling huge debt on our children. And families and small businesses are struggling through a jobless recovery with more than 2.4 million private sector jobs lost since February.
It's clear, the American people want health care reform.
But they want their elected leaders to get it right.
Most Americans wanted to hear the president tell Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and the rest of the Congress that it's time to start over on a common-sense, bipartisan plan focused on lowering the cost of health care while improving quality.
That's what I've heard over the past several months, in talking to thousands of my constituents.
Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer. In fact, it will make health care much more expensive.
That's not just my personal diagnosis as a doctor or a Republican. It's the conclusion of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the neutral scorekeeper that determines the cost of major bills.
I read the bill Democrats passed through committee in July. It creates 53 new government bureaucracies, adds hundreds of billions to our national debt and raises taxes on job creators by $600 billion.
And it cuts Medicare by $500 billion, while doing virtually nothing to make the program better for our seniors.
The president had a chance, tonight, to take the government-run health care off the table. Unfortunately, he didn't do it.
We can do better with a targeted approach that tackles the biggest problems. Here are four areas -- four important areas where we can agree, right now.
One, all individuals should have access to coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions.
Two, individuals, small businesses and other groups should be able to join together to get health insurance at lower prices, the same way large businesses and labor unions do.
Three, we can provide assistance to those who still cannot access a doctor.
And four, insurers should be able to offer incentives for wellness care and prevention.
That's something particularly important to me. I operated on too many people who could have avoided surgery if they'd made simply -- simply made healthier choices earlier in life.
We do have ideas the president has agreed with. We're grateful the president mentioned medical liability reform and we hope he's serious. We need to establish tough liability reform standards, encourage speedy resolution of claims, and deter junk lawsuits that drive up the cost of care. Real reform must do this. Let's also talk about letting families and businesses buy insurance across state lines. I and many other Republicans believe that that will provide real choice and competition to lower the cost of health insurance. Unfortunately, the president disagrees.
You can read more about all of these reforms at healthcare.gop.gov. These are common sense reforms that we can achieve right now without destroying jobs, exploding the deficit, rationing care, or taking away the freedoms American families cherish.
This Congress can pass meaningful reform soon to reduce some of the fear and anxiety families are feeling in these very difficult times. Working together in a bipartisan way, we can truly lower the cost of health care, while improving quality for the American people.
I'm Dr. Charles Boustany. Thank you for listening.
BROWN: And again, Wolf, we just heard from Louisiana Congressman Charles Boustany, who's also a doctor, delivering the Republicans' response.
We've got our whole panel, who's going to be with us here to give their whole response on the president's speech, as well as the Republicans' response.
We're going to take a quick break and be right back right after this.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: For the most part, very, very polite inside the U.S. House of Representatives before this joint session of Congress. But there was some heckling, some ugly words that certainly did come forth -- certainly nothing like the House of Commons in London. But it was sort of unusual to hear one congressman say...
BROWN: You lie.
BLITZER: You lie, to the president of the United States.
BROWN: And then being booed by many Democrats.
Again, we will be telling you who that Congressman is once we confirm and know for sure who it is.
We want to bring back our panel in to get your take on the president's speech and the Republican response.
John King joining us -- John, you've got to concede, the man can give a speech.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The man can give a speech. He's in a room, 530 plus members of Congress, his own cabinet. So about 600 people in the room or more. But he wasn't talking to them. He was talking to the American people. And, largely, he was talking to two groups -- Independents, who have backed away from his plan because they're worried the government can't afford it, how are they going to pay for it and will it mess with their insurance. The president was talking to them and saying, look, we're going to save all this money and I'll have a trigger mechanism, that if we haven't saved all the money by 2012, we'll find more resources before we do this and it won't raise the deficit.
The other group was seniors, the most important group in the electorate in the 2010 mid-term elections. The president said I want to talk to you seniors for a minute. What they're telling about cutting Medicare is a lie.
If he can hold those groups, get Independents back, hold seniors, he'll pass the health care bill.
BROWN: What happens now, Gloria?
BORGER: Well, I...
BROWN: I mean how do they take it to the next level?
BORGER: Well, I think they go back to the committee. They find out what the Senate committee is going to report. And then they -- they hammer a bill out. And I think this is a president that's under no illusion that he's going to get a lot of Republican support. He may get one Republican senator, if he's lucky.
But I think that he's hoping that this talk of fiscal responsibility is going to keep some of those moderate, conservative Democrats with him in the House. You know, he took something from John McCain. He took something from Hilary Clinton. He took medical malpractice from the Republicans, to the -- to the disdain of -- of lots of liberal Democrats. So there was something in there for everybody.
BROWN: And you said at the beginning of the night, Candy, game changer was not the way you wanted to set up this evening, that that put the stakes way too high.
But was it enough to get the little bit of maybe incremental movement that they need?
CROWLEY: Listen, anytime you have a president who has this broad of an audience,. You're going to see the numbers move.
The question is, will they move permanently?
I think what happens from here tonight, tomorrow, who's he going to talk to at the White House?
He's going to talk to conservative and moderate Democrats. Stage two, knock some heads.
BLITZER: Yes. He's got to do a lot of talking -- Paul. He's got -- he's got problems, obviously, with the Republicans. And by and large, he's not going to get any of their significant support.
BLITZER: But can he unite those so-called conservative Blue Dog Democrats and the liberal Democrats, the progressive Democrats, as they like to call themselves, can they get all of them behind him?
BEGALA: That's who he was talking to. And Democracy Corps, a non-profit group -- a liberal group that James Carville and Stan Greenberg, President Clinton's former pollster, was doing some focus groups tonight with dials. And I was checking in with them as they were doing those.
Obviously, most of what he said was way up with Democrats. Well, that matters, because, ultimately, this is in the hands of the Democrats. But he scored very well with Independents, as well. And it is those Blue Dog Democrats who care about fiscal issues that he was really speaking to -- both at home and in the hall.
And when he went and said the Bush tax cut, the war in Iraq and the prescription drug plan exploded the deficit, he was talking to them, because a lot of them voted for that. And so he's going to be able to take them behind a closed door now and say, hey, bud, you jacked up the deficit under the last president, you've got to help me now. And I think that's going to be a powerful argument behind closed doors.
BEGALA: He said it very politely in public tonight.
BLITZER: When all is said and done, though, David, a lot of those very nervous Democrats -- the conservative, moderate Democrats -- they're worried about getting re-elected next year.
GERGEN: They are, indeed. And they should be. My sense is that he very much endorsed the Baucus plan tonight -- the moderate Democratic plan. It had very little -- there's nothing about taxation in here, nothing about the Rangel stuff. He didn't in -- he didn't come out four square for the public option. I think this was very much what they're trying to build in the Senate side.
My sense of the speech in terms of whether it will reverse the tide, which I think was the real test, had he given this speech three months ago, when there was a glow about his presidency, I think he could have swept the country. It was a very well crafted speech.
But now, given everything that's happened, I think millions of American who voted for him will say tonight, we saw the Obama we elected. They will be really excited by this speech. But for a lot of others, I'm not sure it moved them very much. I'm not sure it healed the divides. Maybe it moved some of the Independents, as Paul said. But I just -- we're so dug in, I'm not sure it moved the people he ultimately needed to move if he wants to reverse the tide.
BROWN: Do you agree with that -- Ed? ROLLINS: I think he clearly laid out his objectives. I mean this was his goals. There's two lines here I want to repeat: "While there remain some significant details to be ironed out" -- that's what was missing tonight.
ROLLINS: And I think a lot of people wanted to...
BROWN: And that got a laugh, by the way.
ROLLINS: Well, it should -- it should have got a laugh.
ROLLINS: And then the other thing, to the point about the Medicare, he talks about we're going to reduce the waste and inefficiency and Medicaid and Medi -- in Medicare and Medicaid to pay for most of this plan and they propose it will cost $900 billion. Well, that's $900 billion out of Medicare waste and -- you know, we all have gone through waste and fraud and abuse. So, if I'm a senior out there, I'm saying (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Well, he didn't say all that $900 billion would come from Medicare.
ROLLINS: He said...
BLITZER: He said hundreds of billions of dollars would come from waste and abuse in Medicare.
ROLLINS: It doesn't matter. I think -- I think he did not quiet the -- the little anguish that will go on among those senior citizens.
Now the key thing here is he laid out his goals, he laid out his objectives. The details will come from the Congress. Is the immediate -- there's a lot of things in this thing that could be challenged tonight.
And is the media -- is the experts going to challenge, how do you pay for it, what are the taxation...
BLITZER: Did he...
BLITZER: Did he convince any Republicans in the House or Senate...
ROLLINS: No. No. He didn't. He didn't.
BLITZER: ...to come aboard? ROLLINS: No, he did not. To the best of my knowledge, he didn't. I don't think that was the purpose. I think, to a certain extent, he once again proved he can give a great speech. You know, it's -- it's a tough topic. But I think he stood up there. He looked presidential. Obviously, he held his own party.
BLITZER: And, Campbell, now what he's got to do, the president of the United States -- and all of his aides and his allies on Capitol Hill -- they have to follow up and deliver, because one speech is simply not going to do it.
BROWN: And do you, to that end, John King, expect sort of a campaign-style tour?
We know he's going to have this event on Saturday, but what are we going to see from him?
Is he going to go out and -- and we're going to see candidate Obama reemerge around the country?
KING: He said it right there in the speech. If you say something that I think is out of bounds and is a mischaracterization, I'm going to call you out. So, yes, we are going to see candidate Obama. And that's a difficult challenge, because, on the one hand, he said early in the speech, we have to put aside the Washington games. We have to try to do this like grown-ups, do this in a bipartisan way.
Well guess what?
This is going to be a defining partisan fight of his presidency. And the president who just said let's do it like grown-ups is going to have to go out there and fight.
BLITZER: So much at stake for the president, so much at stake for the American people.
We're going to continue our coverage.
Larry King is standing by.
He's got a special program -- Larry, pick it up.