September 9, 2009: President Obama’s Joint Address to Congress on Health Care Reform


A close shot of the address
(President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress on health care at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


  • FACT CHECK: Obama drops iffy line on health plan: The change was subtle, but significant. In his speech to Congress on Wednesday night, President Barack Obama gave a more accurate — and less reassuring — account of the impact of his proposed health care overall than he has done in the past. It went by in a blink…. – AP, 9-9-09
  • Obama disapproval on health care up to 52 percent: Public disapproval of President Barack Obama’s handling of health care has leaped to 52 percent, according to Associated Press-GfK poll that underscores the country’s glowering mood as the White House made a renewed pitch for an overhaul. Just 42 percent approve of the president’s work on the high-profile health issue. The survey was released Wednesday before his nationally televised effort to persuade Congress and voters to back his drive to reshape the nation’s $2.5 trillion-a-year medical system…. – AP, 9-9-09


President Obama was greeted by members of Congress as he entered the House chamber

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times President Obama was greeted by members of Congress as he entered the House chamber.

  • Obama hopes his pitch will sway health care debate: President Barack Obama’s leadership in the days ahead will determine whether his forceful health care address to Congress heralds the kind of sweeping change he promised while campaigning for the White House…. – AP, 9-9-09
  • The Congressman Who Cried ‘Lie!’: President Obama was halfway through his speech, trying to dispel what he called “bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform.” Then he ran into Rep. Joe Wilson’s agenda for the night. His plan would not insure illegal immigrants, said Obama. “You lie!” rang out in the chamber…. – WaPo, 9-9-09
  • Obama Vows to ‘Deliver on Health Care’: President Obama sought to reframe the contentious debate over health care on Wednesday, asking a critical Congress and a skeptical nation to reach consensus on legislation to expand coverage to millions of Americans and lower costs through a sweeping overhaul that has eluded lawmakers for generations.
    “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last,” Mr. Obama told a joint session of Congress, adding, “Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to a breaking point.”…
    “What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics,” Mr. Obama said. “Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge.” He added, “And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.” – NYT, 9-9-09
  • Live Blogging the President’s Speech: ….What was true then remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road – to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.
    But that’s not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test. – NYT, 9-9-09
  • On Brink, Obama Is Resolute and Clear: There was high drama in the setting and most of all in the timing. After a summer of chaos, criticism and confusion, President Obama stood before Congress on Wednesday night — with three major networks broadcasting live (Fox sat out the speech in favor of the season premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance”) — and tried to seize the last word on health care reform…. – NYT, 9-9-09
  • Obama: Time for ‘bickering’ is over on health care: Shaking off a summer of setbacks, President Barack Obama summoned Congress to enact sweeping health care legislation Wednesday night, declaring the “time for bickering is over” and the moment has arrived to protect millions who have unreliable insurance or no coverage at all…. – AP, 9-9-09
  • Obama Says Time Is Now for Health Reform: President Barack Obama sought to call Congress and the American public to action Wednesday night, in a prime-time speech aimed at resetting the terms of the debate over health care reform…. – PBS Newhour, 9-9-09
  • Obama: Claims of death panels are a ‘lie’: President Barack Obama says the charge that Democrats want to set up death panels as part of health care overhaul is a “lie, plain and simple.”… – AP, 9-9-09
  • Analysis: Obama gambles on making nice, no vetoes: Barack Obama faces the same obstacles that plagued former President Bill Clinton during a health care standoff 15 years ago. But Obama took a strikingly different path around them Wednesday night, choosing the promise of compromise over Clinton’s sharp-edged veto pen….
    “The time for bickering is over,” Obama told a joint session of Congress. “Now is the season for action.” – AP, 9-9-09
  • Baucus may move health bill without Republicans: The Democratic U.S. senator leading an effort to write a bipartisan healthcare reform bill said on Wednesday he was ready to move forward without Republican support, but still hoped for a deal…. – Reuters, 9-9-09
  • Obama tries to build momentum for health overhaul: Reaching for a game-changer, President Barack Obama is beset by conflicting goals in a prime-time address Wednesday expected to detail just how he wants to expand health care coverage and lower medical costs while signaling to a deeply divided Congress that he’s ready to deal. And show the public he’s in control…. – AP, 9-9-09


A wide shot of the address
(President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress on health care at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday,  Sept. 9, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • Below is the text of the letter from Senator Edward M. Kennedy referenced by the President in tonight’s address to a Joint Session of Congress. – WH, 9-9-09
  • Full Text: Obama’s Health Reform Speech Following is the text of President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, as prepared for delivery, released by the White House and distributed to news organizations. – PBS Newshour, 9-9-09
  • Full Text: GOP Response to Obama Reform Speech Following is the text of Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany’s GOP response to President Obama’s health reform address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, as distributed to news organizations: “I read the bill Democrats passed through committee in July. It creates 53 new government bureaucracies, adds hundreds of billions to our national debt, and raises taxes on job-creators by $600 billion. The president had a chance tonight to take government-run health care off the table. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it.”… – PBS Newshour, 9-9-09


  • Julian Zelizer “Obama’s speech: A simple message, a tough task”: Above all, he has to make sure he holds on to his liberal base, said Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
    “If he goes too far and the compromise is so meager that it’s almost like doing nothing, that could trigger a backlash from supporters,” Zelizer said. But he also has to be seen as effective and open to cooperation with opponents. Obama created his challenge by holding himself out as a transformational politician. “If he looks just like the people he ran against, that would be very damaging,” Zelizer said. – Philadelphia Inquirer, 9-9-09
  • Julian E. Zelizer: Commentary: Obama’s moment of truth: On Wednesday, President Obama will make the most important speech of his presidency. We hear this phrase so much that it has become a cliché. But, in this case, the cliché is accurate.
    President Obama suffered a politically brutal month in August. The opponents of health care dominated public debate about the legislation circulating in Congress. Public approval ratings for the president and his health care plan, as well as the Democratic Congress, have fallen. Democrats have become internally divided.
    It is possible Obama could end his first year in the White House without a major piece of legislation beyond the economic stimulus.
    For a president who began the year with his supporters talking about a transformative leader who would equal Presidents Lincoln or Roosevelt, this would be a major disappointment…. – CNN, 9-9-09
  • Reactions to the Speech: A Health Care Roundtable – NYT, 9-9-09

DESCRIPTIONAP With Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, left, and House Speaker Sam Rayburn, far right, President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Congress in May 1961.

  • A Bit of History on Presidents and Joint Sessions: President Obama’s health-care speech tonight is officially an address to a joint session of Congress. Such addresses are somewhat out of the ordinary but not all that rare.
    Certain events take place routinely during a joint session — counting electoral votes, for example, or delivering a State of the Union message. (When a president is first inaugurated, he usually gives just an address at a joint session.)
    Joint sessions are not necessarily called for emergencies or moments of crises but often, as in the case of Mr. Obama tonight, to push certain policies…. – NYT, 9-9-09
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