POLITICS
07/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Puts Heartbeat Back In Health Care Reform

President Barack Obama's comments about health care during his Tuesday press conference gave the progressive community, which has warned for weeks now that the sky is falling as far as health care reform is concerned, a newfound sense of optimism.

The president did not go as far as some Democratic operatives would have liked but with regard to a public plan for insurance coverage, he said he was not ready to walk away from a bill that lacked this hotly contested component.

"We have not drawn a line in the sand other than reform has to control costs, and it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are underinsured," Obama said.

But the president made, perhaps, the strongest case to date that a government-run option should be in the bill, calling it "an important tool to discipline insurance companies." He scoffed at private insurers for their arguments against the proposal.

"Why would it drive private insurers out of business?" asked Obama. "If they tell you they're offering a good deal, why is it that government, which they say can't run anything, can drive them out of business? There are gonna be some legitimate debates to be had about how this takes shape. But conceptually, if they can't compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision on the best plan, that defies logic."

In the immediate aftermath of the press conference, the health care community was buzzing with excitement, about the second statement in particular. "He's not going to draw a line on anything right now [because] he can't get in the way of the legislative process," said one activist. "But continuing to champion for it is basically putting it out there and ensuring it will remain in the mix until it's in conference."

Certainly, the pressure is being ramped up regardless of Obama's words. The progressive leaning group, Health Care for America Now started a campaign on Tuesday, with other like-minded voices, to place political pressure on California Democrat Sen. Diane Feinstein to come into the fold on a public option. Meanwhile, Sen. Kent Conrad has begun moving incrementally toward nationalizing his idea of co-ops for insurance coverage, a move that brings the proposal in line with a public plan.

Combined, the news has served as a defibrillator of sorts for the progressive community. Said one activist: "We are closer now than anyone has ever been. The news media should celebrate that and stop trying to find the doom and gloom at every turn. We may actually get good health care for people imagine how nice would that be?"

Reminded how much more optimistic a tone she was striking post press conference, she added, "Someone must have spiked my corn pops this morning."

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