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Obama to Iowans: ‘This is your victory’

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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He insisted they could. And on Thursday, he said the passage of landmark health-care legislation was affirmation.

It’s appropriate that “Yes we can” — a mantra that was popularized in Iowa and eventually launched President Obama to the top of U.S. politics — emerged again at a presidential address on campus.

“This is your victory,” Obama told the capacity crowd of 3,000 in the University of Iowa Field House, thanking Iowans for their help in the passage of the health-reform bill.

“And today, health-insurance reform is the law of the land all across America,” Obama said later, inciting a “Yes we can” chant from the audience, largely composed of college-aged supporters.

Change to health care is coming for people in communities such as Iowa City, Obama promised. But some opponents say that change is in the wrong direction. Others say it’s not nearly enough.

Obama said the law keeps promises he made when he visited the UI’s medical campus in May 2007 to outline his plans for health-care reform. White House officials said that speech made possible the health-care reform signed by the president on Tuesday.

But one audience member reminded the president of an unkept promise he’d made three years ago in Iowa City: insure every American.



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“What about the public option?” UI graduate student Justin Feinstein yelled at Obama during the event, managing to speak above the echoing commotion of the Field House’s main deck.

“That’s not in it,” Obama shot back from the stage.

“Why not?”

“Because we couldn’t get it through Congress, that’s why. There’s no need to shout, young man — no need to shout.”

Once fully implemented, the current law will leave 6 percent of Americans uncovered, according to a report from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

“If he pushed it, if he fought, he has the votes to pass it. It all comes back to him,” Feinstein told TheDaily Iowan after Obama’s speech. “I like a lot of this bill, but it’s not comprehensive. It doesn’t cover everyone. It’s not universal health care.”

Feinstein is right, according to the numbers.

For example, in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District — which includes Johnson County — the health-care law will extend coverage to almost 20,000 currently uninsured residents, said Sabrina Siddiqui, a media representative for Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa.

However, approximately 36,000 in Loebsack’s district will remain without coverage.

But others say the law should be scrapped altogether. After the event on Thursday, a shouting match broke out in front of the venue between Obama supporters on one side of the street and opponents on the other.

Sheila Murphy of Missouri Valley, Iowa, held a sign urging people to “Fight ObamaCare.”

“I think it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to force people to purchase anything, to use their own personal money to buy something,” she said, pointing to the provision of the health-care law which requires residents to be insured.

Murphy said she supports a bill sponsored by Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, which would protect Iowans from the federal government’s health-care mandate. In other states, conservatives are pushing lawsuits that would test the constitutionality of that requirement.

While some parts of the law won’t be felt for years, others will be firmly in place by year’s end, Obama said.

He specifically pointed to perks for young people and small-business owners. Under the new law, Americans up to age 26 can be covered on their parents’ health insurance, and starting this year, small-business owners will receive tax credits for offering coverage to employees.

Iowa City’s own Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., seems to be the quintessence of much of Obama’s rhetoric about lightening the burden for small businesses: It has become increasingly difficult for co-owner Jan Weissmiller to provide coverage for her almost 20 full-time employees, especially when premiums jumped 35 percent last year.

The president mentioned Prairie Lights in his speech. Employees at the bookstore were listening over the store’s sound system, excited and surprised by the presidential plug. And almost an hour later, they received an unexpected visit.

The president made a quick stop in the store to purchase a couple books for his daughters, Sasha and Malea: Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson, and The Secret of Zoom, by Lynne Jonell.

“It was thrilling,” said Weissmiller, who has co-owned Prairie Lights since 2008 and worked there since 1979. “I told him we were proud of him. It’s been so much harder than anyone expected.”

The owner said she plans to provide raises or extra perks to her employees with the money provided by the tax credit approved as part of the health-care law.

“Here’s what the bill does: It finally tells the insurance companies that in exchange for all the new customers they’re about to get, they’ve got to start playing by a new set of rules that treats everybody honestly and treats everybody fairly,” Obama said.


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