Let's lower the temperature
"I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. ... Not this time. Not now." -- President Barack Obama, Sept. 9, 2009
Can a single speech by the president of the United States cause people to change direction? If so, President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress should have done the trick. It not only showed his resolve, it reaffirmed his commitment to passage of real health insurance reform.
Obama's address received a great deal of deserved praise. In it, he finally outlined the principles and details of the health care reform plan he believed Congress should pass to bring security to Americans who have health insurance and affordable coverage to those who don't.
After a tumultuous summer of town-hall brawls in which misinformation was being peddled by the opponents of reform, Obama set the record straight. He focused on the facts in the various proposals, how health care reform will affect businesses and people, those who have or offer insurance and those who don't. The president also cleared up any lingering confusion fomented and stirred by the special interests and defenders of the status quo. Obama was equally clear about what health reform doesn't mean, and, on this point, the president finally demonstrated some passion.
Obama's remarks gave the majority Democrats a well-needed shot in the arm. For some of the wavering members of his party -- the so-called Blue Dogs or moderate members -- he threw them some red meat on controlling costs while offering a few olive branches to Republicans (Sen. John McCain's national high-risk pool and medical malpractice reform).
But most importantly, the president stepped onto the field. He's playing ball now, and that should be a major factor going forward. It's about time. From the moment he appeared before a jittery Congress, Obama stated the obvious: "I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last."
Members of Congress still must iron out important details, and the public, both those in favor of the plan and those who oppose it, must continue to weigh in. But everyone should refrain from the kind of shouting matches that demonstrated that in this civilized society, we lack the decency of sitting down and working with people with whom we might disagree.
As for Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman who rudely shouted "You lie!" at the president when he addressed illegal immigrants' access to care, he was wrong -- on every level. Wilson violated the decorum of the House of Representatives, and he has apologized.
But the misinformation continues to fly. One of the most egregious of the false attacks on the bills proposed is the myth that the House bill provides health benefits for undocumented workers and their families.
Fact: Taxpayers will not fund health care for undocumented workers. Section 246 of America's Affordable Health Choices Act states that "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."
The so-called conventional wisdom is that Democrats are scattered and uncertain of the way forward. As it turns out, though, it was a good summer and members returned ready to work on a bill. Now, it's time to begin a new phase of this debate: lawmakers pulling together the various ideas and amendments to make the current proposals stronger.
For most Americans, that means they cannot be denied coverage because they get sick. It means no family will have to go broke just to try to stay healthy. And for those who remain vigorously opposed, they must answer this question: What do they propose to do to keep health care costs from rising three times faster than wages?
If any member can add to this or propose reasonable alternatives, it's time to put those plans on the table and subject them to the same type of scrutiny and vetting that the Democratic proposals have gone through.
Finally, it is important to recognize how far we have come since January. Four of the five House and Senate committees have marked-up bills. And the chairman of the fifth committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, announced that his committee would soon move ahead with it.
There is a huge swell of agreement among those bills, and they synch up with what Obama has presented. So let's all lower the temperature and get to work. As the president told Congress and the American people, the time to act is now.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.