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HEALTH CARE: In His Annual Address, Obama Sounds a Familiar Note HEALTH CARE: In His Annual Address, Obama Sounds a Familiar Note HEALTH CARE: In His Annual Address, Obama Sounds a Familiar Note HEALTH CARE: In His Annua...

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Health Care / State of the Union: Analysis

HEALTH CARE: In His Annual Address, Obama Sounds a Familiar Note

One year after the passage of health reform, Obama says he's open to change -- just not too much.

President Obama can accept some changes to last year's health care overhaul. "Let me be the first to say that anything can be improved,” the president said during Tuesday's State of the Union address.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Matthew  DoBias
January 25, 2011

Updated at 8:34 a.m. on January 26.

President Obama told Congress in his State of the Union that he’s open to changing some parts of the nearly year-old health care law, but he underscored that lawmakers would need to use a scalpel -- not a machete.

“Now, I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law,” he said. “So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.”

 

For Obama, it isn’t a new line, nor is it one that’s likely to cool critics of the reform package who are fighting it on Capitol Hill, in the nation’s statehouses, and in the courts. The president said he’s willing to quickly extract a provision that threatens to swamp small businesses in a morass of paperwork. That approach got traction Tuesday, when more than half of senators put their names on legislation to repeal that provision. In addition, Obama said that he’s willing to overhaul the nation’s medical liability laws -- something Republicans have championed for years.

But Obama also reiterated that he would not budge on the core provisions of the law, especially those aimed at overhauling the private health insurance industry.

“So I say to this chamber tonight: Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward,” he said.

Republicans, of course, will take Obama up on that offer -- and then some. If he is willing to give an inch, the danger comes from critics of the reform law who instead want to take a mile.

Last week, House Republicans voted to completely roll back Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Not one day later, GOP leaders instructed their newly minted majority to begin work on a replacement package, one with a decidedly rightward tilt.

The vote to repeal the law and then replace it with a Republican one was as choreographed as it was telegraphed by Republicans in the run-up to the November elections. The GOP won the House as unabashed champions of overturning the law. Party leaders have made it clear that they’ll continue to try.

Last year, Obama played the role of salesman-in-chief. His health care package had stalled on Capitol Hill, and there was genuine concern that Democrats would not be able to kick-start it. Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts had just won the Senate seat occupied by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, skewing the vote margins in the Senate and siphoning away the Democrats’ filibuster-proof margin.

At the time, the president urged members of his own party to stand firm: “Don’t walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close.”

One year later, it’s a message that still resonates.

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