Democratic candidates distance themselves from healthcare reform

Hardly any Democrat running for Congress seems to want to talk about healthcare.

Of the 26 leading Democratic House candidates contacted by The Hill, only one would commit to voting for the Senate healthcare bill if and when it comes to the House floor.

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Out of the more than two dozen Democratic challengers and open-seat House candidates, only 10 commented for this story. Eight outright declined to comment.

Eight more didn’t respond to several days’ worth of requests via phone and e-mail.

The only candidate to say unequivocally that he would support the Senate bill, which could be voted on in the House next week, is a primary-care physician running to face Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).

Dr. Manan Trivedi said it’s important to get the ball rolling on reconciliation.

“The answer is yes,” he said flatly.

That was about as direct as the answers got — though another Democratic candidate, Arkansas state Sen. Joyce Elliott, said she was “inclined” to support the bill.

The campaigns of Trivedi’s and Elliott’s primary opponents — businessman Doug Pike and Arkansas state Rep. Robbie Wills, respectively — did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the course of the week.

“I most definitely think that we need to just bite the bullet and get with this process to get some kind of healthcare legislation in place,” said Elliott, who is running for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.).

Elliott and others cited the unsettled nature of the bill for their deferred judgment.

In order to press forward with the reconciliation process, House members would have to vote on the bill passed by the Senate last year. But different factions of their party are requesting various guarantees, particularly when it comes to abortion funding language and cost-cutting measures.

That left Democratic candidates some wiggle room when pressed for their position on the bill. And they used it.

Dr. Ami Bera is running against Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) Red to Blue program for top candidates this week.

He said people are skeptical of additional government control, but he’s not committing either way.

“We’ll have to see what they actually end up with,” Bera said. He added that the healthcare bill the House voted on in November didn’t sufficiently rein in costs.

“What’s currently being discussed probably does not adequately address that either.”

Maureen Reed, a medical doctor running against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), said Congress “needs to pass something.”

But like Bera, she said costs are a major concern.

“My worry about these bills is they require the infusion of another trillion dollars over many years’ time,” she said. “We need the trillions that are already in healthcare to be better spent.”

Reed’s primary opponent, state Sen. Tarryl Clark, said that the Senate bill is flawed but that the country can’t wait any longer.

“Clearly, for America’s sake, we need to make some changes,” she said.

Not everyone stressed cost containment, though. New Hampshire open-seat candidate Ann McLane Kuster said she would like to see a public option included.

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Liberals have been pushing Senate Democrats to include a public option change in the reconciliation process.

“I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals about what the version is,” Kuster said. “I’m just going to say that I support a bill with a strong public option and see how that emerges.”

Florida state Sen. Charlie Justice said: “While I’m very much in favor of doing some healthcare reform, I hesitate to say I’m definitely in favor of a specific resolution.”

Former Washington state Rep. Denny Heck, the Democratic front-runner to replace retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), would only lay out a series of policy goals and declined to delve into the details of the Senate bill.

He echoed a line frequently used by the candidates — that something must be done.

“I have to say that I’m encouraged by the seriousness with which I sense this thing is all being taken of late,” Heck said. “[Health and Human Services] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius was beating the doing-nothing-is-not-an-option drum. I think that’s the right message.”

Spokesmen for open-seat candidates Jon Hulburd in Arizona and Lori Edwards in Florida said their candidates weren’t ready to talk details either.

“All we’ve said on healthcare is that we’re concerned about how the system currently works, and we need a bipartisan solution and see what they can do to fix the problems we can all agree on,” said Hulburd campaign manager Ruben Alonzo.

Edwards campaign manager Clay Schroers said: “It’s all well and good to pass a bill that expands coverage, and that’s great, but if we’re expanding coverage at such a rate that we can’t pay for it, then the future’s going to be just as troublesome.”

Those declining to comment for this story included: former Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney; Illinois open-seat candidate Dan Seals; Indiana state Rep. Trent Van Haaften; Nebraska state Sen. Tom White; Franklin County, Ohio, Commissioner Paula Brooks; Pennsylvania special-election candidate Mark Critz; Bethlehem, Pa., Mayor John Callahan; and former Marine Capt. Rob Miller in South Carolina.

Those who didn’t respond to multiple messages were: Pike; Wills; Palm Springs, Calif., Mayor Steve Pougnet; Kansas state Rep. Raj Goyle; Louisiana state Rep. Cedric Richmond; Tennessee state Sen. Roy Herron; Pennsylvania state Rep. Bryan Lentz; and Washington businesswoman Suzan DelBene.

On its website, The Hill is tracking which way members of Congress are leaning on the bill. Recently, vulnerable Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) signaled they would switch their votes from yes in November to no on the Senate bill.


The Hill’s whip list of the healthcare vote can be found here.