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One Sharp-Edged Speech, Two Views From Maryland

Sen. Ben Cardin (D) saw a clear-eyed president giving it straight. If it makes some people squirm, so be it.

"I was proud the President called it like it was and I'm sure there were some people who were uncomfortable about what he said. I think he was clear, and that's what you want from a president," Cardin said.

But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican whose sprawling sixth district includes a sliver of Montgomery County, said that the President seemed frustrated and that his tone may have undercut his cause.

"I talked to others tonight, too, who had the same feeling. He might have been a bit more effective if he was a bit less strident and critical," Bartlett said.

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At Wednesday's health-care reform speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama had called the "death panel" meme "a lie, plain and simple." He called for bipartisanship, but added a warning: "I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it."

("You lie!" came a shout from South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson after Obama said illegal immigrants wouldn't be covered, raising a number of questions. Among them: Did someone spend a bit too much time this summer watching Prime Minister's Questions on C-SPAN?)

As for substance, Cardin said the president did a good job laying out what must be in a reform bill, and was particularly effective at putting the debate over a public health-care option in context. Cardin supports a public plan, but as a means, not an end.

"I thought the way he explained that was brilliant. It made it clear the object was not a public insurance option ... but competition," Cardin said.

But the competition argument doesn't hold together, Bartlett said, proffering a metaphor of sweet fried dough to make his point about private insurers.

"We don't need the government to make doughnuts to challenge the people who make doughnuts to do a better job," Bartlett said.

So what's next?

Cardin expects a bill on the Senate floor in October. "He's not backing away from the issue. We need to get it done this year," Cardin said.

Bartlett said Republicans should now seize Obama's call for bipartisanship. "I think we knock on the President's door, which is supposed be open," he said.

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While big differences remain over what reform should look like, how it should be paid for, and what impact it will have on business -- Cardin says it's possible to cover millions of new people by curbing administrative and duplicate costs in the health-care system and increasing preventative care, among other things; Bartlett says forcing employers to insure workers will force jobs overseas -- Bartlett said he found much he could embrace about the President's speech, and the man himself.

"You can't argue very much with the vision he outlined tonight. The points he made about what's wrong with the health care system were exactly right," said Bartlett, 83. "He's the best since Reagan, isn't he? He's a very charming young man, very likable. Everybody wants him to succeed, by the way. That doesn't mean everybody supports everything he wants to do."

Photos by Rich Lipski/The Washington Post

By Michael Laris  |  September 10, 2009; 7:45 AM ET
Categories:  Michael Laris  
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