Friday, September 11, 2009
Speaking before a joint session of congress, President Obama says "the time for bickering is over" with regards to efforts to reform the nation's health care system. Did the president change any minds with his speech?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): I'm Gloria Penner and I'm joined by the editors at the roundtable These Days in San Diego. Today, we'll examine response to Wednesday's major healthcare speech by President Obama, this week's beginning of the school year for San Diego city schools whose superintendent has resigned, and the PUC's rejection of SDG&E's power cutoff plan. The editors with me today are John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. John, it's good to see you again.
JOHN WARREN (Editor and Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Thank you, Gloria.
PENNER: And we have JW August, managing editor for KGTV 10News. Welcome back to you.
JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Top o' the morning to you, Gloria.
PENNER: Thank you, JW. And we welcome for his debut, and we hope just the first of many appearances, David Ogul, who is the education editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. David, I'm so glad you decided to join us.
DAVID OGUL (Education Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Thank you for inviting me, Gloria.
PENNER: Of course. And our number, if you would like join us is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Within weeks of taking office, President Obama rolled out his healthcare initiative, declaring that he is committed to working with congress to pass comprehensive health reform in his first year to control rising healthcare costs, guarantee choice of doctor, and assure high quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans. But in the months since then there's not been much progress toward a healthcare overhaul by congress and the pushback from the opposition has been strong. So, John, did President Obama have to give that big speech to fix a major problem on Wednesday?
WARREN: Yes, the president did have to give that speech; he had to be presidential. He had to assert leadership which had been questioned as people start talking about the honeymoon of his first six months being over. And I think in that 47 minutes, what you come away from with the speech is determined by the mind that you carry to hearing the speech. I thought it was a very substantive speech, more so than his predecessors had ever given. And I also thought that he not only addressed the issues but he spoke to the American people in terms of getting their time and their attention, and I was fascinated by the level of response. The activity on the part of the member from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, was indicative of the kind of closed mind demonstrated by the Republican members of the House as they are the ones who made it a bipartisan scenario.
PENNER: Yeah, John, I want to interrupt you. There may have been a few people that have been in their caves and have no idea what you're talking about about Joe Wilson, so let's explore that just for a moment before you go on.
WARREN: Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina, when the president wanted to make it perfectly clear that there would be no health insurance coverage for illegal immigrants, shouted out 'you lie.' And that was a very – a first in many respects because, first, it violated the dignity and the ethics of the House of Representatives and all of its history and its rules for how members deal, but it also represented a tremendous affront to the presidency and it stirred a tremendous amount of discussion. The president did not respond. He went on. Wilson, of course, apologized quickly thereafter to Rahm Emanuel but did not speak directly to the president. But his actions are not to be used as an indicator to sidestep what really took place with this speech. And I think the American people are missing something here when they hear the opposition. The president made it clear that he would not sign a bill that added one dollar in terms of cost to the national deficit. He talked about the $900 billion dollar cost. He talked about where the money would come from over the next ten years. But what's missing in the response is the fact that you have the doctors, the pharmaceuticals, the insurance companies, people who have very lucrative private plans who feel that their world, in terms of healthcare and profits as they know them, are threatened and so they look for places within this bill and one such place they found as a haven for attack is the whole idea of a public option plan. And so the president had to make clear that he's looking at an overall approach, which has the idea of doing much what the insurance industry does for automobiles, making sure that every American has an opportunity to be insured. He talked about the impact on small businesses and how there was a cap set that would exclude or give a waiver to many small business, so he tried to cover all of the bases in terms of the fears that have been represented. And yet following the speech, we still had these responses from the same people as before who did not think that he addressed the issues.
PENNER: You didn't see any change, JW, in the response? I mean, didn't you see maybe some independents moving more toward the president's side or more moderate Democrats?
AUGUST: I – It may be going on behind closed doors. He did appeal to both wings of his party in this speech to try to get them in the house. He explained to the – those on the left side of the party that, hey, you know, we've got to find a common ground. What I think this was, was the president said when he came in the office, I'm tired of this bipartisan bickering, I want to unite the country, I want to do the right thing. And so for six months he gave it a shot, and I think – I think, actually, he listens to Editors Roundtable because the last time we discussed this, I think the consensus was he had to get tough, and he did get tough. And he realizes, hey, I'm going to do what it takes. If I got to steamroll the Republican Party, I'm going to do it. Consensus is not going to happen with many of those people. And you saw, as John alluded to, the behavior on the floor. I think that's just indicative of the town hall meetings where they don't really want to hear what's being said. They've already made their minds up. No matter what you say, you're not going to convince them.
PENNER: And I'm going to turn to you on this, David. So I'm getting a sense from both John Warren and JW August that the ideologues haven not been moved, that those, let's say, who are convinced that the president wants to create a socialistic type of umbrella for healthcare and move toward socialism, they have not been moved by the more detail that he gave in this speech.
OGUL: Well, I think that the ideologues have been moved on the left. Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman, for example, are now giving indications that they could live without the public option, at least as a start. And so, yeah, you're right there. But more importantly, I think the people that have been moved and are more important to getting anything done are the Susan Collins and Olympia Snows of the world, of the Senate and the congress.
PENNER: Moderate Republicans.
OGUL: The moderate Republicans and also the moderate-to-conservative Democrats, and you're seeing movement over there. And, in that sense, it was successful.
PENNER: Okay. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. I'd like to know whether you believe that President Obama's speech has made a difference in whether we are closer to seeing healthcare overhaul, some form of reform for the healthcare system because of the fact that the president is now taking a more active part and seems to be continuing that. He's still giving speeches. Our number again, 1-888-895-5727. Let's hear from Chris in Dana Point. Chris, you're on with the editors.
CHRIS (Caller, Dana Point): Good morning.
PENNER: Good morning, Chris.
CHRIS: Yes, I'm a Republican and a supporter of President Obama and of healthcare reform. And I've been moved. I'm convinced. I think bipartisanship is great but if he can do it without the Republican support, he should. That's what I campaigned for him to do and that's what I want to see. And when I hear from my friends, my neighbors, that trot out words like 'socialist' or 'paying for abortion' or 'illegal immigration' or so forth that if you have to shout, if you have to start throwing labels that aren't accurate, if you have to misrepresent what's going on out there, you basically have lost the argument. You've shown that your mind is closed. And I don't need to necessarily see a whole lot of time spent trying to convince them that they're wrong because it seems like they're pretty much – have their mind made up.
PENNER: Well, thank you very much for that, Chris. We appreciate it. It sounds like clear thinking to me. What do you think, John?
WARREN: I think it is very clear thinking and I think what's important here in terms of what the caller just said is that the president made it clear that those who have something to say, he would listen to, his mind and his door would be open. But he also made it clear that those who would use political tactics to try and stall and defeat it, that it would not be tolerated, and I think that was a very important point. What makes his case different than Bill Clinton in 1993 is that there are already four House committees that have reported out a bill. Obama had to be rather vague in the beginning because the legislation was being drafted; now he can be more specific in terms of the documents that are on the table and that people are looking at. And so there is movement, as David pointed out, in the Democratic Party. I think there will be some more movement from the Republicans as people with clear minds, like the caller, actually look at the facts as opposed to the stated misrepresentations.
PENNER: Well, I must say that in addition to Chris and what he had to say, we now have a full bank of lines absolutely filled, so it sounds to me as though the people are engaged. Whether they're all engaged on the side of the president or not, we're going to find out. So let's hear from Ethan in Carlsbad. Ethan, you're on with the editors.
ETHAN (Caller, Carlsbad): Yes, thanks for taking my call.
ETHAN: I'm not very trustful of Obama. I watched a documentary on PBS called "Ten Trillion and Counting," and Obama's going to push up our national debt in a decade so it's going to be about twice what it is today. And in this documentary, the economists say throughout the – or, several times they state that he's not being honest with the American people, that he's going to have to raise the taxes on the middle class and so it's hard for me to believe a lot of the things that he's saying now because of what the economists say about his economic plan. Another thing is this, one of your editors, John, he seems to be very anti-Republican. I wish you would balance your panel and put someone on there that's anti-Democrat. It's just not a balanced panel, and there are a lot of arguments that I think are not being heard on this discussion.
PENNER: Okay, well, you know, that's fair enough. I don't know exactly what the affiliations are of my guests in this studio today because I don't ask them to fill out a questionnaire before they come on, but I have to tell you that over the weeks and months that we do Editors Roundtable, believe me, with the 12 to 15 editors that we have on, we have Republicans as well as Democrats. So that's my response to you, Ethan. But let's – I want to talk about this whole business about raising taxes and the deficit because I think that is a very fair point that you brought up. Let me turn to you on this, JW August. I mean, he's saying this isn't going to add one single penny to the deficit? How can we believe it? It's a $900 billion program. Where's that money going to come from?
AUGUST: Uh, I don't know.
AUGUST: I don't know.
PENNER: Oh. All right.
AUGUST: I'll leave that to John.
PENNER: Any clue, David? I mean…
OGUL: Well, first I'd like to tell Ethan that I've been a registered Republican since 1981.
PENNER: Oh-oh, there…
OGUL: That's my loyalty oath. But…
PENNER: There we are, full disclosure.
OGUL: There's a full disclosure. But on – there – we're not certain where the savings are going to come from. The president would like much of the savings to come from Medicare, savings in Medicare, savings from wasteful spending and…
OGUL: …in the various government programs that we have now. Whether that's going to happen is a big question. And there – And people like Ethan are absolutely right to question where we are going to get the money to pay for this.
PENNER: Well, David, that's interesting because what I'm hearing from you and I'm hearing from Ethan, even from JW—haven't heard yet from John—is that the president's going to have to clarify that part of his program, that he did lay that out. He gave us figures. He said it won't add one cent to the deficit, but he wasn't clear enough so that intelligent people, and our listeners are intelligent people and our panelists as well, they aren't quite clear on where the money's going to come from. John, can you straighten us out?
WARREN: I would. And first I'd say to Ethan that truth does not wear a partisan label, and facts document what we say. The point here on where the money comes from, the president identified under Part D of the Medicare proposal which deals with the drug options and a number of issues involved in terms of how reimbursements are made – We have to remember that the former President Bush set that whole program up so that the pharmaceutical industry would benefit. And the president said there would be over $150 million or billion dollars saved just in rearranging the waste that was identified there. So there are plans that have been put on the table, it's just a question of pulling the dollars together.
PENNER: Okay, well I thank you for…
PENNER: …that, John. And, JW, have you suddenly – have got the light bulb in your head and you've figured it out. And you'll let us know after the break…
PENNER: …because we're going to take a break first. So we're talking about President Obama's healthcare reform policy, what he's laid out on the table, what he hasn't, and your response to it. We're going to come back and take your calls. This is the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.
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PENNER: I like the beat of that. I'm almost sorry to interrupt it. I'm Gloria Penner. This is the Editors Roundtable. And I am here at the roundtable today with John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. From KGTV 10 News, we have JW August, and David Ogul from the San Diego Union-Tribune. We're talking about the president's healthcare plan. Now that he's laid it out a little more clearly than he had before, what kind of response are we getting on it from both congress and the public? And let's hear now – Our number, by the way is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Let's take a call from Robyn in Carlsbad. Robyn, you're on with the editors.
ROBYN (Caller, Carlsbad): Thank you.
PENNER: You're welcome.
ROBYN: I have two comments. One is that in hard economic times, there's always going to be a scapegoat and that's been proven through Hitler and the Jews, and I think that the Republicans are stirring up—and not only the Republicans but the rightwing Fox News people—are stirring up a lot of hatred and they're aiming it at Obama. And I'm really concerned about that. I see the tone of the conversations to be very mean spirited and very personal. So Joe Wilson was a good example of that. The second comment is, I don't really understand what the Republicans' problem is with everybody having healthcare. I just – it's not clear in my mind what they have to lose by everybody being covered.
PENNER: Okay, thank you, Robyn. Everybody on the panel wants to talk to what you just had to say but before we do that, let's take one more call and then we can respond to both of them. This one is from Carla in Escondido. Carla, you're on with the editors and we're waiting for your comments.
CARLA (Caller, Escondido): Yes, good morning. My comment, and I'll try to stay away from the political side of this, would simply be that I think people are going to be leery about any type of public healthcare system simply because if you look at some of the other institutions that the government has publicized and if you can look at the public school system, it has fallen short of, I think, what it could possibly have achieved. We have high student dropouts, we have high number of students to teachers, and so forth. And there's a lot of things that would indicate that the government has too many other responsibilities to be dealing with something on that kind of magnitude. I personally wouldn't want the government to have a say-so on what type of healthcare I can receive and it really seems to me that if we put it back – put the responsibility back to the pharmacies, the medical institutions, those that are receiving the profits from this, and perhaps the government can address it like they did when they felt the utilities had become too big of a power and put some limitations and restrictions onto the companies, perhaps that they don't have quite such a huge profit margin, that that would be a better way to approach things.
PENNER: Okay, well, we certainly have two distinct points of view there, Carla's and Robyn's. And so let's take comments on both of them. I don't think that I need to repeat anything that they said. They're very clear in my head, they must be in yours, too, gentlemen. Start with you, JW August.
AUGUST: I'm hooray for Robyn, boo, Carla, you got it wrong. Hey, this is what – The reality, Carla, is there's a great deal of inefficiencies in our medical system and the way we treat people. Even the AMA supports the need to reform. Reform is not going to come by promises from the private sector. That's not how the real world works. The real world works is when you put the strap to them and you make them behave and you enact laws that require them to offer insurance to every American in the country. You will have a choice on what insurance you choose. They're not taking away your choice on insurance. Nobody is taking that away from you. I don’t know where that came from. The public option is probably what you're talking about, which is the most controversial part of this. As far as what Robyn said, you are right on. They – No clearer example than this week with the – the president wanting to speak to the elementary – I mean, speak to school children. The rightwing turned that into some kind of a plot for him to turn this into a socialist country. It was embarrassing. I mean, the La Mesa School District not showing the president's speech to the children and overreacting, it just shows their anger. Their anger is not – the big issue for them is not the health problem. The big issue is Obama. They don't like a black president and they're going to stay on this puppy all the way through.
PENNER: Let me ask you this, JW. How important is passage of significant healthcare to the president's role as a political leader of this country?
AUGUST: I think his power hinges on it, I really do. Because he – if he does not win this battle, he's going to have a tough time on any of his agenda. He is no longer Obama the candidate, he's Obama the President of the United States and he's got to get this done. He knows it. His people know it. And I hope his supporters are aware of it.
PENNER: Do you think, David, that the president was forceful enough in countering some of the stories like the scary stories about death panels for ailing seniors? That people would have to give up the health insurance that they love, that kind of thing? Was he really clear on this? Do you think he got through even to those people who are opposed to anything Obama?
OGUL: I think he convinced people who have an open mind. For the – As you referred to earlier, the ideologues, I don't know. On the people on the right anyway, I don't know if he convinced them. They have their minds made up and I don't know if you're going to convince them. One thing I'll say about the president's speech is, when he started talking the other day, the other night, he – I was – It was like I was watching Saturday Night Live and, you know, the caricature of him that is just absolutely hilarious with no emotion. But about five minutes into that speech, I saw – I saw a president who was wearing his emotion on his sleeve when he started getting angry about what he called the lies and distortion, when he started to talk about the late Senator Kennedy. And he almost – what I thought, was almost – started to break down and cry. To me, that was a very effective way of communicating. Whether it was genuine or not, is not an issue to me. It was just a very genuine way of communicating and I think he may have swayed some people. How many, I don't know.
WARREN: First of all, Obama's been presidential from the very beginning in terms of his decisions, his actions, and what is always missing in this argument is what he inherited, as he pointed out the other night: a mess and a disaster at every level of this country, which he just tried to address. Now, Robyn, you raised a very important question. You said why are the Republicans against the whole healthcare idea? Republicans are against the healthcare in terms of the bill because it represents moving money. It represents moving money from people who have it, from the insurance companies. That's why they don't want a public option. When the president addressed the other night the whole idea of a cap on malpractice lawsuits, you would say, well, why would that be important? Because a cap will make a difference in terms of what insurance companies have to pay out and it would make a difference in terms of people who are victims of malpractice, in terms of what they can recover. Punitive damage would no longer have the limits that they have. And so this is the whole idea; it is about money, from pharmaceuticals to doctors who are not happy with how they're being paid under Medicare when many of them abuse the program and they were caught in fraudulent manipulations of paper, which you now have good doctors today suffering because of bad past decisions. These are the issues that are never spoken directly by the people who are in opposition, but they are out to protect their interests and that's what the American people have to wake up to. We didn't want Social Security but we've benefited. Everybody over 65's benefiting from Medicare. Those programs work. So why would we think now that offering comprehensive or the option of health insurance to every American is such a bad idea when so many people are alive today because of the other two programs mentioned?
PENNER: Okay, well, gentlemen, thank you very much. I wish we could continue this for the rest of the show but we have so many other important topics so thank you again.
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