Did Obama win over the wafflers?

Leading members of the Gang of Six weren't convinced by Obama's healthcare message. What about the Blue Dogs?

Published September 10, 2009 11:11AM (EDT)

Last night, President Obama showed that he wasn't ready to back down on healthcare reform during a major speech before a joint session of Congress. While the speech may be best remembered for South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson's outburst, as a whole, Democrats were highly supportive of Obama's efforts to draw a line in the sand on healthcare reform.

But what about the other big players in the healthcare reform debate -- especially the ones that have been standing in the way of Obama's agenda? Republicans reacted with predictable negativity to the speech. The centrist Blue Dog Democrats who have acted as major roadblocks within Obama's own party over concerns that reform will cost too much, remain cautious. If Obama can secure their votes, any healthcare reform bill would be much easier to pass. Some members of the Senate Finance Committee's "Gang of Six," who have acted as the major impediment to reform legislation moving forward in the Senate, were unhappy about Obama's support of a public option. Obama has been trying to win over one Gang of Six Senator, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who may be the only Republican in the Senate willing to vote for healthcare legislation pushed for by the president. But her reaction to the speech was tepid at best. Here's a round-up to the reaction of the speech from all walks of the political spectrum.


Blue Dog co-chair Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D.: "... Blue Dogs believe we have a responsibility to pass health care reform legislation that is deficit neutral, increases the value and quality of care for all Americans, and that takes a responsible approach to controlling costs over the long term ... Let me be clear: We simply cannot sustain the rising cost of health care. If we have any hope of reining in deficits and protecting our economy for future generations of Americans, we have to implement reform that addresses this critical issue ... Blue Dogs agree with President Obama that the insurance market should be reformed. We must end the practice of denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, and we must eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse that is currently bankrupting the system ... The Blue Dogs share the President's commitment to passing health care reform this year, and we look forward to continuing the important work of crafting this critical legislation."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.: Obama "made a legitimate effort to say, 'Let's try to find common ground.' That is what we're sent here to do. That's what the American people want us to do. And we owe it to them to make our best effort."


Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine: “I appreciate that President Obama shared many of the details of his vision for health reform at this pivotal and historic moment, and signaled a willingness to work across party lines. At the same time, as I continue to oppose the inclusion of a public option in any package, I would have preferred that the issue were taken off the table as I have urged the President – given that any bill with a public option will not pass the Senate and this divisive subject is unnecessarily delaying our ability to reach common ground.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "... The speech could have been pivotal for bipartisanship if it had been clear-cut in ruling out the prospect of a new government-run plan. By leaving it up to Congress, where key leaders in both the House and Senate support a government-run plan and control the ultimate outcome, the president passed up a big opportunity."


Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.: "There were a few thorns on those olive branches ... It was one more speech about the same bad plan."

Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.: "I thought it was an unfortunate speech which had partisan overtones but didn't build the links he needed to build for a bipartisan plan."

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.: "I thought it was a complete disaster ... It quite frankly, it made me believe that the President has sort of lost his cool on this."

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: " ... In his speech the President directly responded to concerns I’ve raised about unelected bureaucrats being given power to make decisions affecting life or death health care matters. He called these concerns 'bogus,' 'irresponsible,' and 'a lie' -- so much for civility. After all the name-calling, though, what he did not do is respond to the arguments we’ve made, arguments even some of his own supporters have agreed have merit ... In fact, after promising to 'make sure that no government bureaucrat ... gets between you and the health care you need,' the President repeated his call for an Independent Medicare Advisory Council -- an unelected, largely unaccountable group of bureaucrats charged with containing Medicare costs. He did not disavow his own statement that such a group, working outside of 'normal political channels,' should guide decisions regarding that 'huge driver of cost ... the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives ... ' He did not disavow the statements of his health care advisor, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, and continuing to pay his salary with taxpayer dollars proves a commitment to his beliefs. The President can keep making unsupported assertions, but until he directly responds to the arguments I’ve made, I’m going to call him out too."


Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.com: "This was not a home-run kind of speech; he was trying to leg this one out, and say a lot of different things to satisfy a lot of different constituencies. But I think it was a stand-up triple."

Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic: "The tone is pretty striking, too. Obama reaches out to Republicans in several places. But he also comes down hard--very hard--on opponents who are merely out to defeat reform."

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic: "A masterful speech, somehow a blend of governance and also campaigning. He has Clinton's mastery of policy detail with Bush's under-rated ability to give a great speech. But above all, it is a reprise of the core reason for his candidacy and presidency: to get past the abstractions of ideology and the easy scorn of the cable circus and the cynicism that has thereby infected this country's ability to tackle pressing problems. This was why he was elected, and we should not be swayed by the old Washington and the old ideologies and the old politics. He stands at the center urging a small shift to more government because the times demand it.

And he makes sense. And this was not a cautious speech; it was a reasoned but courageous speech. He has put his presidency on the line for this. And that is a hard thing to do."

Bill Kristol, The Washington Post: "So President Obama invited himself into our living rooms tonight...why? Not to address questions of war and peace -- even though we are fighting two wars overseas, and even though an avowed enemy and terror sponsor is rushing towards nuclear weapons. Not to address the economy -- even though unemployment continues to rise, the deficit is at an all-time high, and we face a truly worrisome debt burden in the years ahead. And not to rally the nation in the face of some other crisis ... But isn’t health care a crisis? No."

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Healthcare Reform Olympia J. Snowe R-maine