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Editorial: Obama not backing down

If President Obama is thinking of caving in on health-care reform, you could not tell it from his tone Wednesday night. Addressing a joint session of Congress on what may be the thorniest issue of modern politics, Obama talked of being open to compromise but not inaction. He vowed to meet the test and not just “kick the can further down the road.” And to those who twist and distort proposed reforms into something they’re not, he vowed, “we will call you out.”
The president called for a 10-year, $900 billion plan that would build on the current employer-based health system. As for the controversial public option, Obama still supports it but is not taking a do-or-die stance.
The speech is not likely to change minds, but it should buoy the spirits of those who hope for practical, meaningful reform. The debate had been going downhill fast, dragging the president’s popularity along with it. This speech should slow that negative momentum.
Change is frightening, and people who are satisfied with their insurance or Medicare are understandably afraid of reform. Truth be told, many of them have probably griped about some aspect of health care in recent years ó denied claims, high deductibles, the rush to get out of the hospital right after surgery. But that may seem preferable to the unknown.
No wonder public disapproval of the president’s handling of health care has leaped to 52 percent, as reported by the Associated Press-GfK poll. No one will win popularity contests by taking on the nation’s well-heeled insurance and health-care industries. Bill and Hillary Clinton could write a book about that. The millions without insurance have little voice compared to the people with insurance and those who profit from their business.
As always, the quest is to find the right balance, and Obama may be better at that than the Clintons. He is getting criticism from the left and the right; the plan does too much, it does too little. It’s happening too slowly. It’s going too fast.
Obama is urging speed. Republicans like Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina advocate caution and more time for debate. Caution sounds wise, but the so-called “debate” in its current shrill tone is tearing the nation apart. A bipartisan solution is always preferable if both parties will really negotiate with each other. If this speech succeeds in restarting that process and tamping down the hysteria, health care reform may have a chance yet.

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