Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), one of the House's leading liberal voices on healthcare, has been forced to sit out much of this year on the issue that's defined his congressional career. And he's not happy out it.

Stark, 77, chairs the Health Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee and is famous (or infamous) for holding the liberal line on healthcare and for his bare-knuckle fights with physicians and other healthcare interests.

Since February, however, Stark has been sidelined with a persistent bout of pneumonia required hospital stays, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports Wednesday:
He recently wrote his colleagues on the House Ways and Means Committee to say it is "totally ironic that at this pivotal time when we finally have a president and Congress ready to push forward with health reform, I am tethered to monitors and participating from remote. I am an impatient patient but am making the best of the situation and following orders so that I can be back with you."

Stark indicated that his unfortunate illness and prolonged treatment are giving him a fresh perspective on the condition of the American healthcare system, according to the Chronicle. "I'm seeing the health system up close and have more appreciation as a consumer than ever before. And I certainly am thankful that I have good health insurance and an excellent team of doctors - something everyone in America should have," the letters says.

The Ways and Means Committee hosted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for its latest hearing about health reform Wednesday, which Stark was forced to miss.

- Jeffrey Young