What to Look for in Obama’s Speech Tonight

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First, nothing specific. Here’s how the BBC reports it this morning:

When asked if Americans will find out in his speech whether or not he is willing to sign a healthcare reform bill without a public scheme, he said: “Well, I think the country is going to know exactly what I think will solve our healthcare crisis.”
Mr Obama said the speech will be directed at the American people, as well as members of Congress…

“The intent of the speech is to, A, make sure that the American people are clear exactly what it is that we are proposing,” Mr Obama said. “And B, to make sure that Democrats and Republicans understand that I’m open to new ideas, that we’re not being rigid and ideological about this thing, but we do intend to get something done this year.”

Second, some version of the Baucus plan seems likely to survive. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, is softening opposition to the idea of reform—if it’s the “right” reform. That means spending less money which means cutting existing benefits in Medicare and elsewhere. Remember—Republicans apparently think we are over insured!

Meanwhile in the House, the Blue Dog leader Mike Ross says he’s flat out against a public option. There are 52 Blue Dogs. In addition, Pelosi, with her stated insistence on a public plan, is beginning to look isolated as part of the leadership caves on that issue. Steny Hoyer, the House Majority leader, indicates he won’t insist on the public option.

What’s likely to survive as pivotal in the final plan will be the “exchanges” which are in fact modeled on the federal employees health benefit plan. It will be through these exchanges that insurers will be required to meet certain standards, including accepting everyone with or without pre-existing conditions. Pricing will be left to the insurance companies.

In the end, my guess is that Baucus will carry the day with details of a weak bill hammered out in conference.

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