Congress Returns, Obama Ups Stakes on Health Care

In a primetime address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama upped the stakes on health care reform – indeed, he may have staked the success or failure of his presidency on this issue and the debate has enormous consequences for the 2010 mid-term elections. Obama’s speech was combative; he both invited input from minority Republicans and challenged their opposition to present proposals. He also chose to attack the veracity of claims and arguments against his policies, asserting that "we will call you out" on false claims. In the wake of the president’s speech – which was interrupted by catcalls and one congressman calling the president a "liar" – the partisan environment on Capitol Hill could not be more toxic. The fundamentals of the bill and the policy debate have not really changed, however. Numerous provisions include mandates on employers to provide coverage or pay penalties, mandates on insurance companies to provide coverage and mandates on individuals to purchase coverage or pay penalties. A government-run "public option" remains a key sticking point, with Republicans adamantly opposed and Democrats deeply divided over the issue. 

The Congressional Budget Office analyses of the various drafts of legislation have been less than comforting, citing increased (rather than decreased) costs for the federal government (i.e., taxpayers) over the next decade with an acceleration of costs in future decades. This will exacerbate the federal deficit and is at odds with the president’s stated goal to "not add one dime" to the deficit.

The Indiana Chamber is engaged in the debate and conferring with its membership as the situation develops. The Chamber will also be taking a delegation of the state’s business leaders to Washington for its annual D.C. Fly-in event on September 23-24, at which time direct communication on this issue will be made to Indiana’s congressional delegation. The Chamber maintains that incremental, yet fundamental, changes in the areas of medical liability reform, health information technology and more consumer-driven health options are necessary first steps to controlling the costs of health care and extending private health care insurance to more Americans.