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Wall Street Journal Discusses Roskam-Obama Healthcare Debate

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Location: Washington, DC

Wall Street Journal Discusses Roskam-Obama Healthcare Debate

In 2004 Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, and Pete Roskam, then a state legislative colleague, argued over an Obama proposal to create a task force to study alternatives for health care in Illinois.

That debate in the Illinois Senate on May 19, 2004 "was a foreshadowing, I think, of how the president tends to argue," Mr. Roskam, now a Republican congressman from Illinois, told the Chicago Sun-Times this week. Mr. Obama had just won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate but hadn't achieved the national attention he would later earn with his keynote address to the Democratic convention in Boston that summer. He faced a potentially tough general election fight against Republican Jack Ryan (though Mr. Ryan would later drop out after his private divorce records were made public).

Republicans in the State Senate, seeking to trip Mr. Obama up, pounced on his task force by calling it a stalking horse for a single-payer health care system run by the government. Mr. Roskam said it could lead to "socialized medicine." Mr. Obama fought back. "I want to say on record that I am not in favor of a single-payer plan," he told colleagues. "I would challenge you to find something in there that suggests anything remotely close to socialized medicine." He accused opponents of his plan of "fear mongering."

But were Mr. Obama's critics so wrong? Just the year before, Mr. Obama had appeared before the Illinois AFL-CIO, where he gave an impassioned address. "I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program," he said to loud applause. "But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately."

In the end, a watered down version of the Obama task force was created, but its proposals eventually died under the weight of public opposition and the declining popularity of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A co-sponsor of Mr. Obama's task force bill, Democratic State Senator Don Harmon, says today the debate proved Mr. Obama "understood the incremental nature of the legislative process. . . . You don't always get everything you want," he told the Sun-Times. "But if you can't pass fundamental health care reform on the first day, you build the infrastructure you need to support it on the 100th day."

In other words, watch out for a last-minute compromise that includes creation of a "health care task force" that might be used to create a platform for further expansion of government health care.

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