Sep 11 2009

Speech did not change minds of Alabama delegation

Gadsden Times

By Dana Beyerle

It’s going to take a lot more than President Barack Obama’s health care reform speech to change the minds of Alabama’s members of Congress about health care legislation, those members said Thursday.

“I don’t know that it changed many minds on the substance of the issue,” U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, said in response to Obama’s televised speech to Congress on Wednesday.

The House health care reform bill named for U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., that has passed a committee, contains a controversial provision that would create a “public option” government-run insurance company that would compete with private companies.

Public option remains the biggest objection to legislation by the four Republican and the three Alabama Democratic members of Congress.

“I don’t think there are 218 votes for it today and don’t think there’s 218 votes for it tomorrow,” said Davis, who considers the Waxman bill “a non-starter.”

“I would not vote for the House bill,” Davis said.

Without endorsing current legislation, Obama hoped his speech would revive health care reform, the hallmark of his young administration.

Growing opposition threatens health care reform’s chances as members fear voter revolt in 2010 mid-term elections.

Obama altered the public option debate in his speech by mentioning not-for-profit publicly run insurance.

“It would only be an option for those without insurance,” Obama said. “No one would be forced to do this.”

U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia Hills, said constituents at health care town hall meetings oppose a public option bill as he does.

“There are many common sense ways to improve health care by making coverage more portable for those who change or lose their jobs, more accessible for people with pre-existing conditions and more affordable by reducing waste and fraud and reforming medical malpractice,” Bachus said. “But putting the government in charge is not the answer and will make things worse.”

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said the Waxman bill makes his voters nervous.

“I think (Obama) made a different speech, but unfortunately it’s still the same plan,” Aderholt said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said voters in his east Alabama district oppose as he does a public option that he said will morph into government-run health care private business can’t compete with.

“In addressing health care reform, I believe Congress should keep what’s working and fix what’s broken,” Rogers said. “President Obama offered much of what he and House Democrats have said all along.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, said there is bipartisan support for covering pre-existing conditions, prohibiting insurers from dropping customers and free market choice and competition. Bright said he won’t support a public option and he’s also concerned about reform’s $900 billion cost.

Bright said he is encouraged Obama pledged to listen to other ideas. “It is absolutely essential that this be a bi-partisan process if we expect the American people to have confidence in any reforms signed into law,” he added.

U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, said the Waxman bill should be scrapped so “that moderates in Congress can begin again to write a bill that will bring real health reform without expanding government or adding more debt to an already overburdened treasury.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he believes Obama still supports a public option, but has not said how it will be funded. The president also failed to explain how a public option would not lead to a government takeover and rationing of health care, Shelby said.

“There are sensible and positive reforms that we can pursue to build on the strengths of our current system, but as long as the president continues to pursue a government-run plan, I remain in strong opposition,” Shelby said.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, couldn’t be reached for comment.