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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the morning line

Posted By on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:58 AM


Max is out today and may or may not be checking in on the blog, but I thought we could use a thread on President Obama's State of the Union last night. 

Obama gave a more full-throated defense of the Affordable Care Act than he has in some time. No mention of the healthcare.gov woes, but clearly with that drama largely in the rear-view mirror, the Obama administration feels comfortable going on offense. (Part of the political dynamic: Republicans enjoyed the fruits of status-quo bias when the law was being implemented, but as the ACA becomes the new status quo, the American people's resistance to change suddenly becomes a problem for the anti-Obamacare movement. "No one can ever lose their current particular health plan" is a ludicrous standard for reform, but if that'st the standard...how are you going to repeal Obamacare?) 

One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven't heard, we're in the process of fixing that.

Now — a pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician's assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn't get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. (Applause.) On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would've meant bankruptcy. That's what health insurance reform is all about, the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don't have to lose everything.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents' plans. 

More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage — 9 million. 

And here's another number: zero. Because of this law, no American, none, zero, can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition like asthma or back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obama also touched on what I believe will be the next battle ground for progressives hoping to expand opportunity via publicly funded safety-net programs: universal pre-k. This is likely a dead end for Obama in the lame-duck homestretch, but it should absolutely be Issue #1 for Team Hillary. 

The problem is we're still not reaching enough kids, and we're not reaching them in time, and that has to change.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child's life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.

But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can't wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year we'll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it's going to do, I'm going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K that they need. It is right for America. We need to get this done.

Will this be the drawn-out fight that Obamacare was? Maybe — if Hillary Clinton is in the White House and proposes something, I think it's safe to assume Republicans will battle tooth and nail. But I'm holding out hope that a government program aimed at helping low-incom children as opposed to low-income adults may get a little more traction on "equality of opportunity" grounds. A guy can dream, right?

One big substantive piece of news in the speech was a minimum-wage raise for federal workers. This will impact a few hundred thousand workers, but is also meant to set an example to try to push Congress to raise the minimum wage for everyone else. Congress critters like Rep. Tom Cotton are unlikely to bite on that, so it's partly a symbolic move. This is a neat example of the limits of presidential power facing up against the expectation of dramatic leadership in a State of the Union. Here's Jonathan Cohn on the merits of the wage hike for federal workers. 


Andrew Sullivan loved the speech (no surprise): 

If he persists on healthcare and persists on Iran and persists on grappling, as best we can, with the forces creating such large disparities in wealth, he will look far, far more impressive from the vantage point of history than the news cycle of the Twitterverse sometimes conveys.

Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online didn't like the speech (no surprise): 

My general impression was this was a remarkably boring speech, intellectually and rhetorically.

It's almost like...whatever you thought about Obama before the speech was confirmed by watching the speech!

Jonathan Chait argued that it was mostly kabuki theater

Americans think he needs to spend more time talking about the economy. They think that because they lack a detailed understanding of the situation in Washington. Obama’s speech was an extended attempt to humor their naivete.

The public wants action on the economy so Obama talked about the economy even though the mindless austerity plank of Congressional Republicans means there's only so much he can do about the economy. 

Three more takes worth reading:

Jonathan Cohn on the policy ideas in the speech

Josh Barro on the policy ideas he wishes had been in the speech

* Greg Sargent on the president's political strategy

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