On a day dominated by news of falling retail sales and a diving stock market, the President held a pep rally for health care.
He told 150 members of Congress and heads of labor unions, business groups, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and consumer organizations:
“Since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform nearly a century ago, we have talked and tinkered. We have tried and fallen short, stalled time and again by failures of will, or Washington politics, or industry lobbying...This time, there is no debate about whether all Americans should have quality, affordable health care. The only question is, how?”
There were no specifics to Obama's call for "bottom up" reform, but his optimism got a reality check in a letter from five Senators saying they are "eager" to work with him while rejecting his campaign call for “a new public insurance program” to compete with private insurers.
“Forcing free-market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition,” said the letter from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Michael Enzi, Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch and Judd Gregg, Obama's drive-by, would-be Commerce Secretary.
“Ultimately, we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market.”
This is the same Bushspeak that led the former president to veto extension of SCHIP coverage for children and presages a bitter battle for health care reform.
But Obama seems ready to fight it. As he spoke, the White House unveiled a new Web site, www.healthreform.gov, and said it plans to hold town-hall meetings across the country to rally public support.
Teddy Roosevelt would approve.