President Barack Obama addressed a half-empty joint session of Congress last night, further evidence of the polarization of the ongoing debate surrounding health reform.
The president used his speech to forcefully state his vision for reform, which included an end to rescission and preexisting conditions, and a limited public option. However, he laid the groundwork for constructive compromise with conservative critics by proposing torte reform pilot projects and revenue neutrality.
Obama also devoted significant portion of time to urging representatives and senators to work hard and stay in Congress, even though they might rather still be on their August recess. “Not every committee hearing you attend may be interesting. Every bill you work on may not seem relevant to your life. But the work you do here this year will help enact real health reform for the American people,” Obama said.
However, his words were largely unheard, with no-shows evident among the Republican and Blue Dog contingents. Many seats in the House chamber were empty, with parents of senators and representatives representing red and swing districts choosing to opt out of their children hearing the speech.
The concerns of Adele Cantor of Virginia reflected those of fellow parents. “The idea of him talking to my son just didn’t seem appropriate,” said Mrs. Cantor.
“I mean, I’m not a student of civics or anything, but I can’t remember a president ever speaking to Congress before. Political recruiting in Congress for legislation sounds like Communism,” she said.
Fred Baucus of Montana said he was fearful of the effect of the president’s words, since Congress is a captive audience. “Hussein Obama is trying to indoctrinate Congress, to subvert the role of lobbyists in making our laws,” he said.
In Ohio, Lois Boehner wanted to know why Obama is allowed to call all the joint sessions of Congress. “I voted for McCain-Palin, and I believe their policies should govern us. Why doesn’t McCain get to call 45% of the joint sessions?”
The principal leaders of Congressional Democrats and Republicans bowed to parental wishes and did not allow discussion following the president’s message. Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate is not the place for controversial topics. “Follow-up conversation may happen at home with parents,” Reid said.
In a related story, President Obama paused briefly during his speech in order to take away Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) Pokemon cards. “You’ll get them back in June. Now go to the Math Center,” the president told Wilson.