Prove It, Mr. President

In a speech this week riddled with partisanship, evasions, and the very demagoguery he claimed to be deploring, President Obama nonetheless gave lawmakers who are serious about health care reform several opportunities to test his commitment to reform.

"I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead," Obama promised. "If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open."

To which congressional reformers should respond: Really, Mr. President? Prove it.

The first opportunity the president created under this plan was on the contentious issue of taxpayer-funded health care for people here illegally.

Waxman has consistently resisted measures to combat fraud and has even championed eliminating identity and citizenship requirements for enrolling in Medicaid.

Many liberals in Congress and the mainstream media would no doubt prefer that the ugly outburst by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) during the speech be the last word on the matter.

But despite Obama's flat assertion that his plan "would not apply to those who are here illegally," the issue is far from closed.

Congressional Democrats successfully defeated amendments in the House that would require proof of legal residence from those seeking health care benefits. So as it stands, the Democratic health care reform bill does not contain any restrictions on illegal aliens receiving health care benefits.

If President Obama means what he says, Congressional Democrats should move to the floor--and the White House should support--one of the previously defeated amendments that simply says people who get government paid health care must be in the United States legally.

The second opportunity true reformers have to test President Obama's commitment to real solutions came with his remarks on Medicare and Medicaid fraud.

Simply by acknowledging the "hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud" in the system, the president opened the door to do something about what the Center for Health Transformation estimates is an astounding $70-120 billion of taxpayer funds that are lost each year to health care fraud and abuse.

But here, again, it's going to take more than just tough talk to convince Americans that the president means what he says. Truly taking on health care fraud means Obama will have to be willing to cross key liberal allies like House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Waxman has consistently resisted measures to combat fraud and has even championed eliminating identity and citizenship requirements for enrolling in Medicaid.

The third opening the president created for health care solutions Americans understand and support is on the issue of litigation reform.

The third opening the president created for health care solutions Americans understand and support is on the issue of litigation reform.

Obama speculated that tort reform--the number one goal of doctors in health care reform--"may" help reduce unnecessary costs. He went on to endorse "demonstration projects" in individual states in order to test his hunch.

But states like Californian and Texas have already proved that reforms like a cap on jury awards in medical malpractice cases can lower overall health costs and increase the number of physicians able to provide quality health care. Since Texas enacted litigation reforms in 2003, thousands of doctors have moved to that state.

If Obama wants us to believe that he is serious about eliminating the high medical malpractice insurance costs that are reducing the availability of doctors and reducing the defensive medicine practiced by those that remain, he has to do more than endorse a few projects in a few states.

The House passed litigation reform legislation in 2005 that would have placed caps on noneconomic damages and limited fee for tort lawyers. House reformers should demand that, if Obama truly wants to seek "common ground" on tort reform, he will endorse this bill.

Finally, in his speech, the president also promised that no federal funds in his health care reform plan would be used to fund abortions.

But, as was the case with illegal aliens' health care, no less than five amendments to prohibit funding of abortions under health care reform were defeated by Democrats in the House. House Republicans should resurrect one of these and see if the president is true to his word.

In a speech that had all the hallmarks of steeling Democrats' nerves for an eventual party line ram-through of health care reform, Obama nonetheless gave principled opponents of his plan some openings. They should not hesitate to take them.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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