by Max Brantley
U.S. Sen. Sen. Blanche Lincoln talked with Arkansas reporters today about health legislation, specifically the Max Baucus proposal. It hasn't enjoyed many favorable comments since its release yesterday, but Lincoln sounds quite receptive.
Paul Barton reports from Washington.
WASHINGTON – Sen. Blanche Lincoln had good things to say about the health care bill unveiled this week in the Senate Finance Committee and said she is not going to worry about whether Republicans will support it.
A Lincoln, a red state Democrat who sits on the Finance Committee herself, gave her first extended comments on the health care proposal unveiled this week by Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the panel.
Because the two-term Democrat from Arkansas is facing a possibly tough re-election campaign in 2010, her reaction to the legislation was sure to draw the attention of political observers nationwide.
“I’m not going to base my vote on whether there is a whole lot of Democrats or a whole lot of Republicans [voting for it]. I’m going to base my vote on whether this bill is something that’s productive for Arkansas and for Arkansas voters,” she said in a nearly hour-long conference call with reporters.
Lincoln added that from what she understands of Republican positions on health care, GOP members should agree with at least 80 percent of the Baucus plan. “It would certainly be crazy not to move forward on that,” she said.
She added: “We’ve tried desperately working in a bipartisan way to solve some of their problems .. At the end of the day, finding a solution means people are working together and they’re willing to understand they are not going to get everything they ask for.”
Although Lincoln expects considerably more tinkering with the bill during marathon Finance Committee meetings next week, it already does a good job of blending the interests of patients with those of insurance companies and doctors, hospitals and other providers, she contends.
“We tried just tried really, really hard to create a balance, and I think that by and large we’ve done that; we’ve created a balance. It means every body has to come to the table, because everybody gains when we bring down the cost of health care,” Lincoln said.
Highlights of the Baucus plan include a proposed network of co-ops rather than a “public option” to cover the hardest to insure, numerous insurance reforms including the elimination of pre-existing condition clauses, and a variety of taxes and fees on insurance and pharmaceutical companies and providers, plus penalties for those who fail to acquire coverage.
Republicans greeted the bill with continued hostility and charges that it was an unwarranted expansion of the federal government - even though it does not call for a “public” or Medicare-like option for those who can’t acquire coverage on their own. Liberal Democrats have blasted the bill as well, saying it would impose onerous costs and penalties on working-class Americans struggling to survive financially.
Lincoln said she was excited by the insurance exchange system the bill that would offer consumers more choices in health plans and emphasized that there was plenty of help in the bill, including tax credits and an expansion of Medicaid, for those too poor to acquire coverage on their own. “We’ve tried very, very hard to fair there,” she said, adding she was also pleased the nearly $800 billion bill had been scored “deficit neutral” by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.
“We’re not here to create a work of art; we’re here to create a work in progress,” the 49-year-old Senator said, promising that there “will be modifications in the years to come.”
As to the stance taken by Senate Republicans, Lincoln said: “I don’t know. Only Republicans can answer that. I don’t see a Republican bill.”
-- Paul Barton