Jan. 25, 2011 -- President Barack Obama defended the health reform law against Republican attacks in his State of the Union address Tuesday, offering to tweak the law but refusing efforts to gut it.
The president’s speech came less than a week after the newly empowered GOP House majority voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It was seen as a largely symbolic act, meant more to fulfill campaign promises than to actually make substantive changes to the law.
Still, voters remain largely negative about the law in polls, particularly the part that requires most Americans to have health insurance by 2014. Obama used part of his prime-time speech to beat back the repeal effort while still signaling that he is open to altering the law.
“I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law,” Obama quipped during the address before lawmakers.
Obama said he’d work with Republicans who had proposals to improve the law or lower health care costs. “Anything can be improved,” he said.
Democrats have already proposed to alter a provision requiring employers to file tax forms any time they do more than $600 worth of business with a vendor. That provision rankled Republicans and many business groups.
On Tuesday, Obama also repeated a willingness to limit malpractice lawsuits against doctors. It’s a long-simmering fight between Democrats and Republicans
“Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward,” Obama said.
But the president stressed that reopening the health care debate won’t mean making substantive changes to the foundations of the health care law.
“What I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing conditions,” Obama said, stressing one of the most popular aspects of the health care law.
It was unclear how far the president’s speech could go toward cooling tensions in Congress over the health care law.
Many in the president’s own party may not look kindly on his proposal to limit malpractice lawsuits. Asked what he thought of the proposal, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “I’d have to look at it.”
Republicans, though they welcomed Obama’s willingness to consider lawsuit curbs, said it would do little to lessen their opposition to the health care law.
“The American people don’t want to trim ‘Obamacare’ around the edges. They want to pull it out root and branch and start over,” Rep. Mike Pence, a conservative lawmaker from Indiana, said in a post-speech interview.
Republicans in the House are now writing their own version of health reform, focusing on expanding access to low-cost insurance, giving small businesses more power to purchase coverage, and limiting malpractice lawsuits.
Pence, a possible presidential candidate, said Republicans would work with the president if he were to abandon his health care law and negotiate on their priorities.
Asked if the chasm between the parties is too wide for any agreement on health care, Pence said, “I think it just might be.”