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January 28, 2010 Thursday 01:21 PM EST
Obama Speech Shows Less Health Care Focus, Few Specifics on Financial Reform
Jesse A Hamilton
President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union speech shuffled the order of his policy priorities, letting health care reform slide down the list in the wake of a congressional membership shuffle that promises to hinder passage of the health bill he favors.
In what is traditionally a president’s biggest annual policy speech, focusing on his intentions for the year ahead, this speech generally treaded only lightly on the categories that the insurance industry was watching most closely: financial reform and health care reform.
Obama again argued that Washington is closer than it’s ever been to fixing major problems with the health care system. “The approach we’ve taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry,” he said. “I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, the process left most Americans wondering, ‘What’s in it for me?’ … So, as temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed.”
The president described no specific plan for how the bill would get through a Senate that will soon be without a 60-vote Democratic majority — the number needed to push beyond Republican filibuster threats.
As for financial reform, Obama praised the House for already passing its package of reforms. “We can’t allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy,” he said. “I’m not interested in punishing banks. I’m interested in protecting our economy.” As with health reform, he offered no specifics as to how the legislative effort might find a second wind. “The lobbyists are trying to kill it. But we cannot let them win this fight.”
“I think we had a good idea of what to expect going in, but the speech confirmed that regulatory reform will be front and center for the upcoming year, especially given the stalemate on health care,” said Leigh Ann Pusey, president and chief executive of the American Insurance Association, in a statement to BestWire.
Still, it was neither the financial system nor health care that occupied the opening of Obama’s speech. “Jobs must by our No. 1 focus in 2010,” he said.
The American Council of Life Insurers was looking for echoes of a policy push that Obama had previewed earlier in the week: a new and greater support for annuities as a method for bolstering middle-class retirement security. While it didn’t come up in the speech, the ACLI’s vice president for media relations, Jack Dolan, said the group is still looking forward to working with the White House “to promote the availability of annuities.”
(Jesse A. Hamilton, Washington bureau manager: Jesse.Hamilton@ambest.com)
January 29, 2010