In the Arena

Obama’s Press Conference

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He’s good. You forget that when you haven’t seen him in a while. He seemed entirely in command, not at all rattled by the toxic political dust storm swirling in Washington. His answers were supple, substantive. The questions were pretty good. The key point that he hammered was the ugliness of the status quo. “If you heard there was a plan out there,” he said, that was guaranteed to double your premiums, cause more Americans to lose their coverage and create larger budget deficits over the next 10 years–would you vote for it? “Well, that’s the status quo.”Some other points:

1. He wants a plan that will cover 97-98% of all Americans. He wants an individual mandate. (And I think this means he’s intending to cover legal immigrants,  always a point of demagoguery for Republicans.)

2. He did not say, as Chuck Todd just insisted, that he would pay for it via a surcharge on families with annual incomes over $1 million. He did say that sort of proposal was acceptable, although he still favors paying for it with a reduction in the tax deductions allowed wealthier Americans. By the way, it was striking to me that he did not rule out increased taxes for the middle class. He merely said that he didn’t want the program “primarily” or “mostly” funded by the middle class. He also didn’t rule out taxing corporate health benefits. (You have to listen to these things carefully. I’m not saying that he intends to tax the middle class or corporate health benefits at all, just that he left a lot of wiggle room about how to pay for the program.)

3. He made a strong case for a public option as a way to keep the insurance companies honest and noted that some insurers were making record profits while raising premiums at a time “when most Americans are getting hammered.” But he didn’t insist that the public option had to be part of the plan, just that he thought it was a good idea. 

4. He emphasized over and over the notion of  what OMB Director Peter Orszag calls “game-changers” –changing the incentive structure for doctors away from fee-for-service toward a more results-oriented system using the data gathered by the new electronic records system being created. This, clearly, is how Obama thinks he’ll be able to reduce costs over time. He’s undoubtedly right that it will help, but no one knows how much it will help. 

Again, the ease, fluency and grasp of detail–and the ability to use vivid examples that made this complicated subject accessible to most Americans–made this an impressive performance. No wonder the fellow was elected President.

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