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Labor Day, Reform, and the Fight for What’s Right

Yesterday, the President spent Labor Day at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati.
Yesterday, the President spent Labor Day at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati.  In his remarks he acknowledged one of the more upbeat traditions of Labor Day – "you're enjoying some good music, some good food, some famous Cincinnati chili" – before noting the more serious tradition being observed:
But today we also pause.  We pause to remember and to reflect and to reaffirm.  We remember that the rights and benefits we enjoy today weren't simply handed to America's working men and women.  They had to be won.  They had to be fought for, by men and women of courage and conviction, from the factory floors of the Industrial Revolution to the shopping aisles of today's superstores.  They stood up and they spoke out to demand a fair shake and an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.  (Applause.)

Many risked their lives.  Some gave their lives.  Some made it a cause of their lives -- like Senator Ted Kennedy, who we remember today.  (Applause.)

So let us never forget:  much of what we take for granted -- the 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave, pensions, Social Security, Medicare -- they all bear the union label.  (Applause.)  It was the American worker -- men and women just like you -- who returned from World War II to make our economy the envy of the world.  It was labor that helped build the largest middle class in history.  Even if you're not a union member, every American owes something to America's labor movement.  (Applause.)

The crowd listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati, OH on Labor Day
President Barack Obama speaks at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati, OH on Labor Day.  September 7, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
He took some questions from the crowd gathered there after his remarks, and spoke with the same kind of fight in his voice that those who have fought for workers’ rights all these years demonstrated time after time:
But let me just say a few things about this health care issue.  We've been fighting for quality, affordable health care for every American for nearly a century -- since Teddy Roosevelt.  Think about that -- long time.  (Laughter.)  The Congress and the country have now been vigorously debating the issue for many months.  The debate has been good, and that's important because we've got to get this right.  But every debate at some point comes to an end.  At some point, it's time to decide.  At some point, it's time to act.  Ohio, it's time to act and get this thing done.  (Applause.)
We have never been this close.  We've never had such broad agreement on what needs to be done.  And because we're so close to real reform, suddenly the special interests are doing what they always do, which is just try to scare the heck out of people.
But I've got -- I've got a question for all these folks who say, you know, we're going to pull the plug on Grandma and this is all about illegal immigrants -- you've heard all the lies.  I've got a question for all those folks:  What are you going to do?  (Applause.)  What's your answer?  (Applause.)  What's your solution?  (Applause.)  And you know what?  They don't have one.  (Applause.)  Their answer is to do nothing.  Their answer is to do nothing.  And we know what that future looks like:  insurance companies raking in the profits while discriminating against people because of preexisting conditions; denying or dropping coverage when you get sick.  It means you're never negotiating about higher wages, because all you're spending your time doing is just trying to protect the benefits that you already fought for.
It means premiums continuing to skyrocket three times faster than your wages.  It means more families pushed into bankruptcy, more businesses cutting more jobs, more Americans losing health insurance -- 14,000 every day.  It means more Americans dying every day just because they don't have health insurance.
That's not the future I see for America.  I see reform where we bring stability and security to folks who have insurance today -- where you never again have to worry about going without coverage if you lose your job or you change your job or you get sick.  You've got coverage there for you.  Where there is a cap on your out-of-pocket expenses, so you don't have to worry that a serious illness will break you and your family even if you have health insurance.  (Applause.)  Where you never again have to worry -- where you never again have to worry that you or someone you love will be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)
I see reform where Americans and small businesses that are shut out of health insurance today will be able to purchase coverage at a price they can afford.  (Applause.)  Where they'll be able to shop and compare in a new health insurance exchange -- a marketplace where competition and choice will continue to hold down costs and help deliver them a better deal.  And I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices will help improve quality and bring down costs.  (Applause.)
I see reform where we protect our senior citizens by closing the gaps in their prescription drug coverage under Medicare that costs older Americans thousands of dollars every years out of their pockets; reforms that will preserve Medicare and put it on a sounder financial footing and cut waste and fraud -- the more than $100 billion in unwarranted public subsidies to already profitable insurance companies.
I want a health insurance system that works as well for the American people as it does for the insurance industry.  (Applause.)  They should be free to make a profit.  But they also have to be fair.  They also have to be accountable.
That's what we're talking about -- security and stability for folks who have health insurance, help for those they don't -- the coverage they need at a price they can afford, finally bringing costs under control.  That's the reform that's needed.  That's the reform we're fighting for.  And that's why it's time to do what's right for America's working families and put aside partisanship, stop saying things that aren't true, come together as a nation, pass health insurance reform now -- this year.  (Applause.)
A little later he told the story behind a chant he likes to use once in a while, "Fired up! Ready to go!" If you haven’t heard the story, might be worth clicking through to the full transcript.
The crowd cheers for health insurance reform
The crowd listens as President Barack Obama speaks at the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic in Cincinnati, OH on Labor Day.  September 7, 2009.  Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)