Murtha still waiting for good health bill

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one of Speaker Nancy’s Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) closest allies, is still waiting for the House to come up with a healthcare bill he would support even though he is a co-sponsor of measure that includes a single-payer provision.

Murtha is one of 86 co-sponsors to a bill sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.). That measure would provide all individuals residing in the United States with free health care.

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It also would prevent private insurance companies from participating in the government program, which Conyers dubbed The United States National Healthcare Program, for any kind of healthcare that is not purely optional or cosmetic.

Murtha signed onto Conyers’ bill just as the healthcare debate started to heat up in July, according to a notification by his sponsorship on www.thomas.loc.gov, a database of all bills introduced in the House and Senate.

The bill was referred to the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce panels.

But in late August, Murtha told constituents during a teleconference that Democrats still have a lot to do to produce a healthcare reform measure.

“The bill hasn’t passed yet,” Murtha said, according to an account of the conference reported in the Johnstown, Pa. Tribune-Democrat. “Everybody thinks the bill is concrete. I haven’t seen a bill I would vote for.”

Murtha joins 23 other House Democrats who have told constituents or their hometown media that they oppose the massive healthcare overhaul under consideration in the House, a number The Hill reported earlier this week.

If Republicans offer the blanket opposition they’ve promised, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can afford to lose only 38 members of her 256-member caucus and still pass the bill.

Murtha spokesman Matthew Mazonkey said Murtha’s comments during the townhall were referring to the major bills under consideration, not Conyers’s measure, which has not gained traction.

“We're comparing apples and oranges here,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

“Congressman Murtha has said all along that we must look carefully at all of the options and produce a uniquely-American plan that works best for the American people. He never said that he didn't support any of the five health care plans under consideration. He said that he didn't support any of these plans 100 percent.”

Mazonkey also pointed to the military’s healthcare system as a model.

“If it were up to Congressman Murtha, we would look at the TRICARE model, and earlier this year he sent a long letter to [Health and Human Services] Secretary Sebelius urging the administration to do just that,” he said.

When asked if he knew that Murtha apparently had reneged on his support for his measure, Conyers said he was confused by it and would have to discuss the matter with Murtha to find out why.

“I didn’t know that,” Conyers said. “I don’t know why he would say that.”

Over the August recess, Murtha resisted calls from GOP opponents and editorial boards of local newspapers to host a live in-person town in his district over the August recess. Instead, he visited several healthcare clinics and held a telephone townhall meeting for district residents in five counties.

He also said he didn’t expect the final version of the healthcare reform to be passed until the first few months of 2010.

One of Murtha’s GOP opponents, Tim Burns, seized on the apparent contradiction between Murtha’s sponsorship of Conyers’ bill and his recent statements that he “hasn’t seen” a bill he would support.

“How can John Murtha, in good conscience, tell his constituents he hasn’t seen a healthcare bill he would vote for, when he is the cosponsor of a true-single-payer government-run healthcare bill?” Burns questioned.

He said Murtha’s position on healthcare reform “seems to be changing every day. No wonder he refuses to attend public meetings to discuss his plan.”