The XX Factor

Would Ted Kennedy Be Satisfied With This Health Care Plan?

Obama was back in campaign form tonight-fighting back, and dead serious about it. And there were notes of his inaugural address, when he called on Americans by invoking “the character of the country” and our sense of responsibility. And the president soared, in that lovely ode to Teddy Kennedy at the end, which you’re right, Hanna, went straight for liberals’ hearts .

But on the specifics, on the substance, I heard more tacking to the center than love for the left. Obama promised that people who don’t have employer-based coverage, or Medicaid or Medicare, will be able to buy affordable coverage on an exchange. But then he finessed the public option. He nodded to its value, but he also said it was only a means to an end. He will not insist on it. He’ll leave it for another day. Maybe four years from now.

There was a lot else to like: No more denial of coverage for preexisting conditions, no more losing coverage when you need it most, no more bankruptcy for out-of-pocket medical expenses. And no more gender rating ! This is the 80 percent of healthcare reform that the president argued there is basic agreement about, right?

Obama was short on specifics, however, for how he is going to pay for the expansion of coverage he outlined. He promised, “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits. Either now, or in the future.” You had to take him on faith about that tonight, though.

The White House has now  released its plan for healthcare, and we can all chew over the details, and maybe they will make tonight’s outline look different in the morning’s light. But for now I feel torn between the soaring and earthly moments. Obama was winning and pitch perfect in making Kennedy our poster-child for healthcare reform, by arguing that Teddy made this the cause of his life because his children got cancer and he never forgot the terror of it. Will the text of the bill he signs meet the standard Kennedy would have held it to? Kennedy was a realist. And so the answer is probably yes. But I want to push on the question some more.