Obama addresses health care at Downtown convention : Michael Macagnone

President Barack Obama stressed the importance of health care reform and worker protection to preserve the United States’ future in an address he gave yesterday at a convention Downtown.

Obama spoke for less than half an hour in front of several thousand people at the David Lawrence Convention Center for the AFL-CIO, a national and international network of labor unions. Its annual convention also featured Sens. Bob Casey,D-Pa., and Arlen Specter, D-Pa.

Health care was a major issue in the speech, during which Obama reiterated the main points of his plan for reform.

“It will offer insurance to Americans who don’t. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses and our government,” Obama said.

The plan requires all U.S. citizens to have health insurance, and all employers would be required to provide insurance for their employees. People with lower incomes and most businesses that are too small to provide insurance would be exempted.

Uninsured Americans would be able to buy a “public option” health insurance program that would be government-subsidized or shop among the various insurance companies, Obama said.

The proposed plan will cost $900 billion over the next 10 years, and the money would come from portions of Medicare spending that are wasteful, Obama said.

“I will not sign a bill that adds a dime to our deficits, either now or in the future,” he said.

Obama said he wants to strengthen the labor movement in the United States in order to protect and further the middle class.
“Labor is not part of the problem, labor is part of the solution,” he said.

Older anti-labor union executive orders have been reversed and have been replaced by newer ones meant to reintroduce protection for unions, Obama said.

He wants to introduce economic reform that revitalizes the U.S. middle class and expressed support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Employee Free Choice Act allows for faster certification of unions, changes laws that govern union-employer negotiation and makes punishments for employers that break labor laws tougher.

A recent census report stated that, before the economic downturn, family income in 2008 was the lowest in the past 10 years, Obama said.

“That’s unacceptable. And I refuse to let America go back to the culture of irresponsibility that made it possible — back to an economy with soaring CEO salaries and shrinking middle class incomes, back to the days when banks made reckless decisions that hurt Wall Street and Main Street alike,” Obama said.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney introduced Obama with soaring praise.

“Today the White House is the people’s house. Our labor movement is proud of our president,” Sweeney said.

Applause thundered through the cavernous convention center when the president first appeared on the two jumbo screens that winged the stage.

Delegates waved signs reading “Jobs Now” and “Health care now” as the audience rose to give its first of several standing ovations.

One woman in the crowd shouted to the president, “I love you, Obama!”

The majority of the AFL-CIO has voted to support a single-payer system of economic reform.

Richard Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO said, “We’d all love to see a single-payer system. The problem is what is politically possible at this time.”

In a single-payer system, all medical expenses are paid by a government or government-related source.

Specter, who spoke before Obama, mentioned a plan to build a high-speed train to run between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for which Congress recently earmarked $25 million. The train is part of a larger plan to revitalize Pennsylvania, said Specter.

“We’re looking to create jobs at every turn and get Pennsylvania moving again,” Specter said.


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