Monday, September 7, 2009

Presidential Address to Congress, 9/7/09

My fellow Americans and members of Congress,

We have been engaged, for the last four months, in a heated debate over the future of American health insurance and the shape of American health care. Most agree that our system is broken, that when we buy health insurance, we pay too much and get too little as individuals, communities, and as a society.

The debate about reform has too often been described as a debate between parties and ideologies, and I know there are ideological differences here in the Senate about the right kind of reform to make. But the biggest threat to change right now isn't the Republicans or the Democrats. George Bush senior failed to pass health legislation he wanted in 1992, then Bill and Hillary Clinton failed again in 1994. George W. Bush added a prescription drug benefit for seniors in 2003 by a single vote, and his party was forced to write a gap into the bill, in which many seniors still suffer. The biggest threat to reform is moneyed interests, campaign contributions, political action committees, and lobbyists.

The reason we pay so much for so little in the current system is that it is extremely profitable for health insurance, pharmaceutical, malpractice and other industries. The reason that they have spent tens of millions of dollars in the past few years trying to avoid real reform is that they know that they have neither earned nor do they deserve the profits they've earned -- their profits come not from offering us the finest health care in the world, because they don't, but from the inefficiencies and waste of a broken system. They pay government to ensure that the system remains broken.

Soon you will make a vote on a bill to match HR 3200, which has already been passed by your colleagues in the House of Representatives. There is currently no other bill before you with a level of support that makes it likely to pass both houses. Members of my party and yours have gone through the bill to make it as appealing to both sides of the aisle as possible. It is not single-payer socialized medicine, but a piece of legislation specifically crafted to limit costs, insure the uninsured, and prevent the worst abuses of the insurance industry such as rescission and the refusal to insure pre-existing conditions. It is rigorously opposed by that industry, as you well know.

I bring to you tonight a challenge. I challenge this session of Congress to voluntarily and transparently fight the influence of the moneyed interests that have kept us from having reform for so long. I challenge the fifteen senators who have taken the most money from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, whether through PAC donations or corporate contributions, to recuse themselves from this vote. To my Democratic colleagues including Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Blanche Lincoln, as well as to my Republican colleagues, I mean no disrespect and I do not mean to argue that your vote is or has ever been for sale.

The American people deserve that this issue, about which they feel so passionately, be given a fair vote that lacks even the appearance of submission to the politics of money. Their government has failed them, in this respect, for many years. You have the constitutional power to make this right. May God bless you and give you strength and may God bless America.

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