Live blogging the president’s speech

Before we get started, take a look outside in the Vermont skies for the space shuttle and international space station going overhead

Hillary wearing red….but wait! So is Pelosi!!  Don’t they talk beforehand?

We are watching the NBC feed, and Brian Williams has been prattling on about “death panels” as if that’s what’s turned this debate.

Note that the choice to give this speech in the House legislative chambers is not merely to demonstrate the significance of this speech.  It’s also designed to remind voters that, in the end, it’s up to Congress to make this happen, not Obama.

While we are waiting, here’s a quiz for you:  when Bill Clinton went before Congress to give his speech on health care in 1993, what impact did it have on his poll numbers?  Nate Silver looks at the Gallup polls and suggests the speech moved numbers in Clinton’s favor.  but if you look at several polls, the results actually look different: Clinton gets no bump.  See the Roper poll at:

Ok, much hurrahs and cheering as he takes the podium.  Years ago when Clinton gave his health care speech the teleprompter brought up the wrong speech.  For seven minutes Clinton spoke from memory and notes. No one noticed.  So you can imagine how smooth he was in denying any dalliances when speaking to Hillary….

Ok, nice touch here to open with an overview of the economy, to set the stage for linking his success here to health care.

You’d think Dingell would try something different – his bill obviously isn’t working!

Ok, the first of what will be several efforts to frame this as a “middle class” bill.  the problem, as Clinton found out, is that most middle class voters are pleased with their health care,  although they worry about spiraling costs.  And now the effort to use the insurance company as the bogeyman here.

Uh oh.  I’m probably in the minority here, but I just don’t think these types of stories are the way to sell health care.

Health care costs, on the other hand, is something that resonates with voters.

So far he’s laid out the problem.  He needs to get to the solution.

And now he positions himself in the middle.  It’s the Henry Kissinger memo strategy – we have three options in Vietnam: unilateral withdrawal, nuclear war, or my strategy: gradual escalation.

(Dan – I’m not against personal stories. But stories in the context of scaring people worries me, particularly because it doesn’t bring insurance companies on board.)

Ooops, the rhetorical repeat fell flat there.

Look, soaring rhetoric is just not going to do it here. He needs to get down to proposals. Ok, here it comes:

Start with the points of agreement – no denial of coverage for preexisting coverage, or dropped insurance, or caps, or limits on out of pocket expenses. Low hanging fruit, and all will get bipartisan support.

purchasing cooperatives are right out of the Clinton Health Security Act.

A nod to McCain (ok, he was right after all….)

Now he begins skating on thin ice.  Americans simply do not like the word “required” – this touches on an ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats.  I’m not sure this is going to fly.

Significant differences still to be ironed out – you think?!

This is a mistake. He shouldn’t be giving “death panels” new life at all.   Same with illegal immigrants – don’t go there.

Did someone just say he’s a liar?!

Is he about to throw the public option under the bus?  If you listen carefully here, he’s hedging bigtime on whether the public option is going to save money or not.

Zoom!  The bus just rolled through! Nancy is not pleased…

Or did it?  He’s really trying to have it both ways here, which is precisely what both Republicans and Democrats have criticized him for doing..

this – the promise that the plan will be revenue neutral – is crucial for getting moderates support.  The question is: will it pass the smell test?  Olympia Snowe, among others, says she will wait to hear the CBO estimates.

The notion that an increase in expenditures can be paid for by reducing waste and administrative overhead goes back to the Reagan administration’s plan to balance the budget.   It is a dubious claim.  Certainly insurance companies are not going to accept that some of their profits are “waste”.

Medicare protection – a bit of misdirection here….

An olive branch to the Republicans: malpractice reform.  It won’t be enough to bring them on board.

I have to say I will be surprised if the CBO numbers are anywhere near what he’s projecting in terms of cost savings, and where he will get them.

Ah, I was waiting for the Kennedy card to be played… .

This is a really interesting choice of strategies – I’m not sure how it’s going to play.  Kennedy was one of the most beloved Senators in the Senate – and one of the most politically divisive figures in American politics.  Is this going to be portrayed as rank politics, or a moving tribute?  And will it serve to unify public support, or divide?

The problem with his use of these illustrations is that both programs – Social Security and Medicare – are facing fiscal pressures……

Will the rhetorical finish — which he does so well – help bridge substantive differences on the particulars of legislation?

Will he quote Kennedy at the end?

Ok, send me your reactions!

To start things off, I am not convinced that Jane or John Q. Public really understand the details of his health care plan after this speech.  It’s a complex issue, but he did little to simplify the issues. Substantively, he placed himself squarely in the political middle – hailing Republicans and Democrats, while dissing those on the left and the right.  The theme he came back to again and again was health care reform as a middle class program.

But first – the Republican response from Charles Bostany

If insurance companies are Obama’s bogeyman, Reid and Pelosi are the Republicans!

A bit of sleight of hand here- he’s portraying the House bill as Obama’s bill – but they aren’t the same.

Obama portrays health care reform as a middle class program – the Republicans portray it as a government takeover of medicine.

Ok, now let me know what you think!  NBC has cut off the coverage, so I’ll see if I can get the pundits reaction via other sources…

Well, my analysis of the pundits’ reaction will have to wait until tomorrow – class prep takes precedent.  But left me finish with a few first impressions of the speech:

Hillary is smiling!  There is not a little irony in Obama deciding to sign onto a policy that mandates that everyone must get coverage – as some of you will recall during the campaign, this is what Hillary advocated, but Obama rejected it then, saying the penalties for not getting coverage under Clinton’s plan were too harsh.

There’s bound to be pushback on Obama’s claim that under his plan no one will be forced to change their plans. In truth, if his plan is adopted, it is likely that many employer-based insurance plans will be dropped, necessitating a change in policy for some people.

It will be interesting to see whether the CBO cost projections fall anywhere near Obama’s.

I’m running short on time, but I see by the blog stats that this was one of the most read posts in a while, so I expect more comments after you’ve had a night to digest things.  I’ll be on tomorrow with more analysis.  I particularly want to address some of the public opinion data on the public option, and health care reform more generally – there is a lot of misinformation based on the misreading of polling data regarding these questions.

more tomorrow…


  1. Why don’t the personal stories work for health care? Politicians like to use them to sell other pieces of legislation.

  2. This is all facts, figures and plans. I’m waiting for some memorable, extended metaphors. So far I haven’t heard any truly timeless sound bytes. Other Presidents’ metaphors have survived the ages.

    James M. McPherson, “How Lincoln Won the War With Metaphors,” in Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (New York: Oxford, 1990), 93–112.

    That said, I thought boiling the public option down to, “I just want to hold them accountable” was brilliantly disarming.

  3. Did the GOP all have to follow Boehner’s lead on when to clap?

    I was astonished when they did not applaud the President’s words about American character and American government, which was stirring. (It hushed even the Democrats for several minutes.)

  4. Are there any other hugely complex bills like health care reform that have been adopted in the past and would serve as useful examples of how to pass such an enormous bill now? Obviously huge bills have been passed before, but I can’t think of any with such a diverse set of issues or any that have been more poorly explained to the public.

  5. Final comment. Here’s an interesting factoid from CNN….

    Obama speech continues tradition started by Adams, Wilson
    Posted: September 9th, 2009 05:20 PM ET
    From CNN Political Research Director Robert Yoon

    WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama’s speech on health care reform Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress continues a long tradition of presidents addressing Congress outside of the more familiar setting of a State of the Union address or annual message.

    George Washington began the tradition of addressing Congress in person in the form of an annual speech, satisfying the constitutional requirement that the president brief Congress on “from time to time” on “the state of the union.” However, it was Washington’s successor, John Adams, who was the first president to address a joint session of Congress on a specific topic outside of the regularly scheduled annual message.

    Adams’ first speech to Congress was an address on relations with France, delivered on May 16, 1797, just over two months after his inauguration. He would deliver his first annual message in November of that year. After Adams, Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice of addressing Congress in person, saying the ceremony too closely resembled a king addressing his subjects.

    Jefferson’s refusal to address Congress in person would set a precedent that his successors in office would follow for the next 112 years. Eventually, President Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice of speaking before Congress in 1913, and over the course of two terms delivered six annual messages and 20 speeches on specific policy or issue areas, for a record-setting 26 total addresses before Congress.

    Since Wilson, almost every president has used the setting of a joint session of Congress to deliver not only annual messages and State of the Union addresses, but also to address a wide array of topics. Herbert Hoover never gave a State of the Union or annual message, but did briefly address a joint session in 1932 to kick off a celebration regarding George Washington’s birthday.

    War was a frequent topic of discussion in speeches to Congress. Presidents Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and George H.W. Bush addressed joint sessions to discuss wars or military conflicts the United States had been involved in at the time. Presidents Eisenhower and Carter each gave speeches on the Middle East. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan discussed the nation’s economy in joint session addresses, while President Clinton discussed health care reform in a 1993 joint session speech. The last president to give a non-State of the Union/annual message address to Congress was President George W. Bush, who discussed the 9/11 terrorism attacks in 2001.

    President Obama will deliver Wednesday night’s speech at roughly the same point former presidents George W. Bush and Clinton delivered their second addresses to a joint session of Congress and on the same date Nixon gave his 1971 joint session speech on the economy.

    Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan each gave a total of three non-State of the Union/annual message speeches before Congress, the most of any president since Truman, who gave nine.

  6. Are there other incidents of heckling of a president during an address to congress? It is too bad that the following morning the lead story for most of the media was the “Joe Wilson” interruption and not the President’s address. Seem to be just another diversion from the meat of the problem.

  7. “Medicare protection–a misdirection here”? The AARP is the largest private organization in the world outside of the Catholic Church, and these are the people who use health care. It’s politically necessary that he curries their favor.

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