WASHINGTON — Kentucky lawmakers, fresh from a summer recess full of contentious meetings with constituents about health care, gave mixed reviews to President Barack Obama's evening address to a joint session of Congress.
Meanwhile, one Kentucky Republican lawmaker publicly rebuked a colleague, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, for shouting "You lie" during the president's speech about his proposed health insurance overhaul.
"I think we ought to treat the president with respect, and anything other than that is not appropriate," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told The New York Times.
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield said Thursday that Wilson's outburst was out of character because the South Carolina lawmaker is usually "low-key."
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Wilson's outburst came after Obama said in his speech Wednesday night that extending health care to all Americans who seek it would not mean insuring illegal immigrants. Wilson offered a swift apology afterward.
Whitfield told Kentucky reporters in a conference call Thursday that health care legislation in the House does not require proof of citizenship for coverage.
The split over Obama's proposal, which falls largely along partisan lines, echoes the broader disconnect among the nation's electorate as Americans continue a spirited dialogue over the pace, shape and cost of health care reform.
"Americans are extremely skeptical about the health care proposals the administration and Democrats in Congress have been talking about over the past several months. And they're understandably baffled by some of the arguments that have been used to promote them," McConnell said in a statement following the president's address.
"Americans want specifics. They want solid assurances about what health care reform would mean for themselves and for their families and, just as importantly, what it won't mean."
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, and Republican Sen. Jim Bunning remained resolute in their opposition to Obama's proposal.
Bunning said he doesn't support a government-run health care program because "I believe it will kill private insurance."
More liberal-leaning Democrats had a decidedly rosier view.
"The president delivered a clear explanation of why we need reform and why we need it now," said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville. "Using the best of private and public insurance plans will create competition and choice to ensure all Americans always have access to quality, affordable health care."
However, Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, and fellow members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 52 moderate-to-conservative House Democrats, aren't completely convinced. Although the president made a direct plea to this group during his speech, he'll have to do more to woo the lawmakers, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
In a statement released to media outlets, Chandler pledged to "continue working to find solutions." However, he expressed "grave reservations" about "any plan that does not retain the benefits of our current system, support rural health care, protect our small businesses, control costs, and continue to allow patients to choose their doctors."