By Paul Barton
WASHINGTON – Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor left the door openThursday for supporting a surtax on the ultra-wealthy to fund health care reform, although both stressed they want to make sure savings from cutting waste and inefficiency are found first.
But before going to a surtax on families earning more than $1 million a year – an idea endorsed by President Obama – Lincoln said the nation must first do what it can “to shift from an old antiquated system” that focuses too little on wellness and prevention and subsequently pays too much for acute care.
The tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, on which she sits, remains “looking for reasonable places where we can find revenues.” To her, she said, that means first wringing out the “inefficiencies.”
Smilarly, Pryor said: “There are a lot of things we can do to fix our health care that don’t really involve any money.”
As for a surtax on the rich, he added: “I would have to look at the whole package before I could say I do or I don’t support that. That [idea] causes me a little concern.”
The two senators, both Democrats, made their comments in separate telephone conference calls with Arkansas reporters. The remarks also came a day after Obama seemed to ease on his demand that both chambers pass a health care bill before the August congressional recess.
Also this week, Families USA, a leading health-care advocacy group released state-by-state totals on the numbers who could gain coverage by if the House Democrats’ sweeping bill became law. For Arkansas, about 243,000 not insured now could gain coverage by 2013 under the bill. By 2019, the number gaining would increase to 391,000.
The research and advocacy group bases its estimates on numbers obtained from the Census Bureau’s “Current Population Survey.”
The member of the Arkansas delegation making the most headlines related to health care recently has been Rep. Mike Ross. Because of concerns about cost, Ross, a fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrat, has led an effort to keep health care legislation from getting out of another key committee, House Energy and Commerce.
For her part, Lincoln said she was relieved the pressure to pass a bill in the next two weeks is easing. The president indicated Tuesday he just wants to make sure health care reform becomes law this year, instead of insisting that Congress pass it immediately.
“I don’t want to squander this opportunity by allowing debate about an arbitrary deadline to take precedence over the substance of good public policy,” Lincoln said.
In one way or another, she added, the Finance Committee has been researching and working on health care reform for 18 months already. “This is not a rush job,” she said.
Both Arkansas senators also strongly echoed Obama’s sentiment that no matter how expensive health care reform turns out to be, doing nothing would be far worse for the United States in the long run – due to spiraling health care inflation and the damage it already inflicts on the Treasury.
“I want to vote for health care reform,” Pryor said. “It’s a big challenge for our country. It has to do with our global competitiveness. It has to do with the quality of life in this country. There are a lot of ramifications to it.”
Pryor also affirmed that he is “open to a public option,” or some type of government-directed health plan for those who could not gain coverage even after more regulations of private insusrance firms are established. But the junior senator said “public option” means different things to different factions in the health debate and he wants to see what the Finance Committee proposes first.
Lincoln has also left open the possibility of supporting a public option.