Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius knew she was preaching to the choir when she met with OFA volunteers in Waukesha on September 13, as part of a Women for Obama event. The 100 people packed into the tiny downtown Waukesha OFA office on Friday afternoon were hardcore activists who didn’t need to be convinced to vote for President Obama this November. But Kathleen Sebelius didn’t travel all the way to Waukesha just to preach to the choir, she said. She came to ask the choir to sing.
The first thing Secretary Sebelius did after arriving at the Waukesha OFA office was to establish her Wisconsin street cred (her words). The crowd cheered as Sebelius explained that her grandfather was born and raised in Milwaukee, that he’s a Marquette alum, and that her sister, Ellen Gilligan, moved to Milwaukee two years ago and now heads up the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
After apologizing for having had to cut her visit short (she was over an hour late due to mechanical trouble with her plane), Sec. Sebelius got down to the purpose of her visit:
“Here’s what I’m here to ask: President Obama needs Wisconsin in order to be re-elected president, no doubt about it, he needs Wisconsin…We know Wisconsin’s going to be close, it’s always close. There is some more interest in Wisconsin given the geographic makeup of the Republican ticket…But I think what needs to happen is people need to understand what’s at stake.
We’re talking about economic security, and economic security starts with the middle class. We have the strongest economy in the world based on a strong middle class.
The middle class took a huge hit in the economic downturn that began in 2007 and accelerated through 2008 and continued into 2009. Retirement accounts were wiped out, people’s house value was wiped out, they lost jobs, they lost health insurance along with the job; lots of people are still struggling to get back on their feet.
But we have made great progress since the time when the President was sworn in and we were losing 750,00 jobs a month. 750,000 jobs a month-gone, month in and month out. We are doing a lot better, and as the former Notre Dame football coach used to say to the team every year, we’re not where we want to be, we’re not where we ought to be, but thank God we’re not where we used to be.”
But that’s not the only reason we should support President Obama. Sebelius spent the majority of her time talking about the Affordable Care Act, the difference it has already made in the lives of seniors and women, and what would happen if Romney and Ryan were to win the election and we were stuck with their voucher plan.
“In case you haven’t noticed, I am a woman. People used to ask me when I was running for office, ‘Do you tend to run as a woman candidate?’ And my question was, ‘Do I have a choice?’…But I do think it often helps to give a little bit of a snapshot because sometimes the lens on issues is different from a woman’s point of view, and the impact is different.
The snapshot right now, is women are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured given the work that we do; we’re more likely to be charged up to 50% more, for exactly the same health plans that our male colleagues are getting in the workplace, and yet those plans, even though we’re charged more, don’t include many of the services needed by women to make sure we’re healthy.
When you talk about Medicare, Medicare is a women’s health program. The majority of beneficiaries are women. When you get up to age 85, 70% of the Medicare beneficiaries are women; women will live longer than men, we rely on those health services.
So whether you’re talking about women in the workforce, young women who are able to stay on their parent’s plans, women looking forward to the fact that our gender will no longer be a pre-existing condition…or Medicare…that would change under the proposals put forward by the House Republicans and now embraced by Mitt Romney.
The notion that we’re not going to hurt any seniors that is currently receiving Medicare is just flat-out wrong…”
You can’t cut a program in half and not affect current seniors, Sebelius said. In addition to cutting nursing home care starting in 2013:
“You would also cancel all the benefits seniors are now getting with the ACA, which means that you’d have co-pays for preventive care; you would cancel Well Person visits, you would cancel the discounts that seniors are now getting with their prescription drugs that are saving millions of dollars across this country. So the notion that somehow this voucher plan doesn’t hurt current seniors is not accurate.
We’re talking about health security, a brand new opportunity for every American, finally, in this country to have affordable, available health care. Every president, Republican and Democrat, for 70 years has tried this; it hasn’t succeeded until now.
We’re talking about health security that continues on into your senior years- that we don’t abandon people, we don’t break our promises, but we tackle this together, we figure out how to make sure that Medicare is there not just for our generation but for future generations, that we keep that commitment and that promise.”
Health security isn’t the only thing at stake in this election, said Sebelius, there’s also the issue of national security, among other issues:
“We have a president who said he was going to end the war in Iraq and he has done just that. Our combat troops are coming home, finally, finally, from a war we shouldn’t have been engaged in.…we are in the process with our international allies of winding down the second war in Afghanistan and those resources need to be refocused on this country.”
But it’s going to take effort to make sure Wisconsinites get to the polls this November, with early voting starting in less than 40 days:
“Our president believes in citizenship, that everybody is better off when we all participate in this great democracy, when we all use our voices and our democratic right to step up to the ballot box. So part of our job is to push back against voter suppression…
We know we are never going to be able to match the avalanche of money that is going to flow in the next 53 days dollar for dollar…But here’s how we do it: person to person. You all are the match on the ground…
It’s important to make sure people know what’s in stake in this 2012 election and how important it is not just for the next 4 years; we are talking about the future of the United States of America …I don’t think we want an America that is divided, I think we need to bring this country back together again…
You’re here because you’re the choir. You wouldn’t be here unless you’ve already been signing a few tunes…but here’s how I see this: we’re in a little choir practice today, and we’re going to learn a few new tunes, find a little harmony, hum back and forth with one another, make some connections, find a few song sheets…but what has to happen when you leave here today, is I need you to sing.
And I don’t mean singing in the shower, or when you’re in the garden tiptoeing around, or singing when you’re cooking pancakes. I mean getting a microphone and belting it out!”
Judging from the response of the volunteers during and after the event, Secretary Sebelius hit all the right notes.