By JESSE BURKHARDT
Political leaders around the state of Washington reacted swiftly to President Obama's Sept. 9 speech to the Congress on health care.
The reactions, predictably, split along party lines, with Republicans blasting the speech and Democrats supporting President Obama's proposals.
Washington's two Senators, both Democrats, indicated they were ready to back a health reform bill.
"President Obama made a strong case for passing a meaningful health care plan," said Sen. Maria Cantwell. "For the health of our citizens and our economy, we must extend health care coverage to those who don't have it now while protecting the coverage of those who do. The key to both of these goals is reducing out-of-control costs, and I believe providing real competition in the health care insurance marketplace through a robust public option will help us get costs under control. I will be fighting to include a public option at every phase of the debate -- as a member of the Finance Committee and on the Senate floor."
Cantwell cited the fact that over the past decade, Americans have seen their insurance premiums rise by 120 percent.
"That translates into a $7,000 insurance premium increase for the average American family. And insurance premiums are expected to double again in the next decade," Cantwell said.
Sen. Patty Murray also backed the direction of President Obama's proposals.
"President Obama stated clearly tonight what American families and businesses know all too well -- our current health care system is simply unsustainable," Murray explained. "And while health care rhetoric and political posturing have been on the rise, costs have too. In fact, the largest private insurer in Washington state raised premiums by 17 percent last month. It's clear that doing nothing will solve nothing."
Murray added that a revised health care plan would provide more stability for Americans.
"The reform we are working toward will provide stability and choice to families and businesses," Murray said. "It will mean lower costs, stable and portable coverage, and the promise that if you get sick, have a pre-existing condition or lose your job, you will not lose your health care. Health care decisions will be put back in the hands of patients and their doctors. And I support the president's vision of a public plan."
U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican who represents the Fourth Congressional District of Washington -- including Klickitat County -- said he believed the president's proposed health care reforms would harm the nation's health care system.
"No speech can change the fact that the House Democrat bills would raise taxes, cut Medicare, force millions of Americans from their existing plans, and put the government in charge of health care -- without lowering costs," Hastings said. "We need health care reform, but not a trillion dollar government takeover that would lead to fewer choices and rationed care."
Hastings said he wanted a "common sense" approach.
"I support common sense solutions focused on lowering costs, increasing choices, and putting more power in the hands of patients through tax benefits and expanded health savings accounts," Hastings explained. "We must make it easier for small businesses to offer benefits, prioritize preventive care, and end lawsuit abuse that drives up prices."
The Republican Party Conference issued a list of objections to the president's speech, citing a number of specific instances in which Republicans claimed Obama was not being factual.
The list rebutted specific quotes and took the president to task. Here are a couple examples from among a dozen statements questioned by congressional Republicans:
Obama: "Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have."
Response: Independent experts all agree that the legislation proposed would result in millions of Americans losing the coverage they have -- the Congressional Budget Office believes several million, the Urban Institute up to 47 million, and the Lewin Group as many as 114 million.
Obama: "There are those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."
Response: Nothing in any of the Democrat bills would require individuals to verify their citizenship or identity prior to receiving taxpayer-subsidized benefits -- making the president's promise one that the legislation itself does not keep.
Although she won't have a direct vote in federal health care legislation, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire also weighed on President Obama's address before a joint session of Congress.
"I applaud President Obama for moving forward with his bipartisan plan to improve our health care system," Gregoire said. "We need health care reform -- and we need it now. In Washington state alone, nearly 720,000 have no health insurance at all, and many more live with the fear that the insurance they have will become unaffordable and lost. A health care system must provide security and stability to those who are already insured, as well as provide affordable coverage to those who do not have health insurance. Doing nothing is not an option."