The Washington Times claimed that during his 2004 Senate campaign, Barack Obama "took positions" on health care for undocumented immigrants, mandatory minimum sentences, and single-payer health insurance "that conflict with statements that he has made during his run for the White House." But the Times omitted key parts of Obama's statements on these issues, the inclusion of which would have undermined its characterization of Obama as having changed his positions.
In a February 1 article headlined "Obama '04 at Odds with Obama '08," The Washington Times claimed that during his 2004 Senate campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (IL) "took positions" on health care for undocumented immigrants, mandatory minimum sentences, and single-payer health insurance "that conflict with statements that he has made during his run for the White House." But the Times omitted key parts of Obama's statements on these issues, the inclusion of which would have undermined its characterization of Obama as having changed his positions.
Health care for undocumented immigrants
The Times article juxtaposed a 2003 statement in which Obama said he supported offering the children of illegal immigrants the same benefits available to citizens with his acknowledgement during the January 21 Democratic presidential debate that his health-care plan does not cover undocumented immigrants, suggesting the two are at odds. But the Times omitted a key part of his 2003 statement -- that he supported the provision of such benefits by the state of Illinois. By contrast, his health-care plan addresses the obligations of the federal government, while specifically allowing states to provide additional benefits.
According to the Times:
The position changes include:
- In a 2003 forum on health care, Mr. Obama said he supported the children of illegal aliens' receiving the same benefits as citizens, "whether it's medical, whether it's in-state tuition." Asked specifically whether he included "undocumented" people, Mr. Obama replied, "Absolutely."(See clip below.)
But in a CNN debate Jan. 21, when Mr. Obama was asked whether his health care proposal covers illegal aliens, he said "no" and that he first wants to cover the U.S. citizens and legal residents without health care.
But in the 2003 remark, Obama was discussing "state level" health coverage, as the transcript of the video the Times provided makes clear:
OBAMA: One of the immediate fights that we've been fighting at the state level is to ensure that immigrant children and youth get the same benefits, whether it's medical, whether it's in-state tuition, you know, which is a major victory that we achieved this year. And it is logical. Because these children -- if -- I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and I do not -- maybe [then-U.S. Attorney General] John Ashcroft does this with his kids, but when I let my kids play in the playground, I don't ask them for their papers, which means that if they have tuberculosis, or if they have other ailments that are potentially threatening to my children, and they are not getting the care that they deserve, everybody is worse off. So there is no logical reason why we would not provide health-care plans to immigrant youth.
JOE JOHNS (CNN correspondent): Senator Obama, we all know what universal health care is, as Senator Clinton just said, sort of the idea that everybody deserves health care. And I have not been able to sort of zero in on your position on this one question: Does your plan cover the estimated 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the country?
OBAMA: It does not.
JOHNS: Why not?
OBAMA: Well, because I think we've got limited resources. And it is important for us that, when we've got millions of U.S. citizens that aren't yet covered, it's important for us to make sure that they are provided coverage.
I do think that we have an obligation to make sure that children are covered. And we want to make sure that they are not sick in the emergency room.
Indeed, Obama's national health-care proposal does not prohibit providing health coverage for undocumented immigrants. The proposal also specifically states that it "will not replace" existing state-level health-care legislation and would allow states to "continue to experiment, provided they meet the minimum standards of the national plan."
Mandatory minimum sentences
Regarding mandatory minimum prison sentences, the Times quoted a single line from a document on Obama's presidential campaign website in order to suggest that he has backed down from a 2003 pledge that he would "vote to abolish" mandatory minimum sentences. But the article did not mention a part of the same document in which the Obama campaign also said that Obama would "repeal the mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders convicted of simple possession of crack, as crack is the only drug that a non-violent first-time offender can receive a mandatory minimum sentence for possessing." The Times reported:
- In an October 2003 NAACP debate, Mr. Obama said he would "vote to abolish" mandatory minimum sentences. "The mandatory minimums take too much discretion away from judges," he said.(See clip below.)
Mr. Obama now says on his Web site, www.barackobama.com, that he would "immediately review sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders."
Beyond asserting that he would support the immediate repeal of mandatory minimums for first-time crack offenders, the document on Obama's website offered a lengthy critique of mandatory minimums, of which the Times quoted just one part of one sentence:
Eliminate Crack/Cocaine Disparity: ... He will also repeal the mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders convicted of simple possession of crack, as crack is the only drug that a non-violent first-time offender can receive a mandatory minimum sentence for possessing.
Reform Mandatory Minimums: There are at least 171 mandatory minimum provisions in federal criminal statutes. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, in FY 2006, 33,636 counts of conviction carried a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, affecting 20,737 offenders. Most of these counts of conviction -- 82.9 percent -- were for drug offenses. Black and Hispanic offenders make up the overwhelming majority of individuals convicted under a mandatory minimum sentence. A RAND study found that mandatory minimum sentences are less effective than discretionary sentencing and drug treatment in reducing drug-related crime, and every leading expert body in criminal justice has opposed the use of mandatory minimum sentences, including the Sentencing Commission, the Judicial Conference, the American Bar Association, and leading criminal justice scholars. Chief Justice Rehnquist observed that "one of the best arguments against any more mandatory minimums, and perhaps against some of those that we already have, is that they frustrate the careful calibration of sentences." Justice Kennedy stated that he "can accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory minimum sentences." Justice Breyer, one of the architects of the Sentencing Guidelines, noted that "[m]andatory minimum statutes are fundamentally inconsistent with Congress' simultaneous effort to create a fair, honest, and rational sentencing system through the use of Sentencing Guidelines." Politicians of both parties have also come out against mandatory minimums. Obama will immediately review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of non-violent drug offenders.
Single-payer health insurance
Finally, the Times purported to highlight a contradiction between Obama's current stance on single-payer health insurance and his position in 2003 by quoting a statement Obama made during a speech to the AFL-CIO in June 2003:
Mr. Obama told an AFL-CIO group in June 2003: "I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan." But in a recent debate he said he has never endorsed such a plan.
"Senator Obama has always said that single-payer universal care is a good idea because it would increase efficiency in the system, but the problem is that it's not achievable," Mr. [Tommy] Vietor [Obama spokesperson] said.
But the Times failed to provide the rest of Obama's 2003 remark before the AFL-CIO on single payer insurance, in which he stated that while he favored such a system, "we may not get there immediately":
OBAMA: I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health-care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim's talking about when he says, "Everybody in; nobody out." A single-payer health-care plan, a universal health-care plan. That's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we've got to take back the White House, and we've got to take back the Senate, and we've got to take back the House.
Indeed, according to an Associated Press "Fact Check" of the January 21 Democratic debate, "Obama's words have shifted. But even in the 2003 video, he made it clear he didn't think single-payer could be achieved under current circumstances."