It attempted to be not a description of the ideal, but rather one of the doable. As one senior White House official put it a few hours before the speech: “There is a path to get this done. … The issues that separate us are not insuperable.”
After an August in which the health care debate threatened to drive into a ditch, President Obama tried to steer it back into the center lane, if there is such a thing to be found on an endeavor so ambitious as remaking one-sixth of the economy. He defended the public option, and yet downplayed it. The package that he described is about the size of the framework released yesterday by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus–$900 billion, which is the lower limit of what anyone is estimating that it would take over the next decade. And though he is not likely to get more than one or two GOP votes, Obama went out of his way to point out the ideas in his plan that can trace their parentage to the Republicans–including his former adversary, John McCain. He also laid on the table an issue that has been something of the Holy Grail to the right: tort reform.
The White House promised more detail tonight, and in that sense. the speech delivered–if only to make more explicit many of the things that Obama has only tacitly dealt with before. But it was a move that was badly needed at this moment. Within the House Chamber, he has provided the guidance that lawmakers have been begging for. But the real question is this: Has Obama provided the reassurance it will take to bring back the rest of the country?