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Health care passage returns focus to Lincoln

by The Associated Press | March 22, 2010 at 6:52 p.m.

The passage of health care legislation in Congress over the weekend shifted attention Monday back to Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who has been facing pressure from both the right and the left on the issue as she seeks re-election.

Lincoln on Monday praised the health care overhaul that the House approved Sunday night and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature. But she said she planned to vote against a companion measure that will be considered in the Senate under rules that would require a simple majority vote.

“I’m not going to support the reconciliation bill,” Lincoln told The Associated Press in an interview Monday.

The House voted 219-212 late Sunday to send the legislation to Obama. The 10-year, $938 billion bill would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits, and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems.

A companion package making changes sought by House Democrats to the main bill, which already had passed the Senate, was approved 220-211. The fix-it bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats hope to approve it unchanged and send it directly to Obama. However, Republicans plan parliamentary objections that could change the bill and require it to go back to the House.

Lincoln in November helped clear the way for the Senate to consider the proposed health care overhaul and supported it when it came up in the Senate on Christmas Eve. Lincoln has faced criticism from the right for supporting the overhaul.

Groups on the left such as have criticized Lincoln for not supporting the creation of a new government-run insurance program as part of a health care reform.

Lincoln on Monday said she still supports the health overhaul headed to Obama’s desk, but criticized the companion measure for including matters unrelated to health care.

“This process that’s being used in reconciliation is a process that doesn’t have the transparency that I think Americans are crying out for,” Lincoln said, “and it doesn’t have the debate that shows the initiative of being thorough about how we do things.”

Sen. Mark Pryor has signed a statement with other Democratic senators saying they would support the measure.

Lincoln’s chief rival in the May 18 Democratic primary praised the passage of both measures in the House and urged Lincoln to support the companion bill.

“Arkansans have waited too long for health care reforms,” Bill Halter said in a statement released late Sunday. “It’s time to say no to the insiders, lobbyists and special interests who have fought against progress for Arkansans and to pass this legislation now.”

Meanwhile, all eight Republicans running for Lincoln’s seat said Monday they opposed both measures, and some vowed to push for a repeal if elected. The GOP candidates include U.S. Rep. John Boozman, who voted against both measures Sunday night.

Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat from central Arkansas, was the only member of the state’s House delegation to vote for the plan. Democrats Marion Berry of eastern Arkansas and Mike Ross from southern Arkansas joined Boozman in voting no.

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat seeking re-election, said he wouldn’t have supported the health care bill because of concerns that it would add to the state’s budget. Beebe has estimated the legislation could add between $100 million and $200 million to Arkansas’ budget annually starting in four years.

Beebe, however, said he didn’t ask the state’s congressional delegation to vote for or against the bill. Beebe said the state would abide by the legislation once it’s signed into law.

“I would have not passed the unfunded mandates on to the state,” Beebe said.

Jim Keet, Beebe’s Republican challenger in the governor’s race, on Monday said he believes the governor should call a special session to address concerns about the legislation. Keet has said that if elected he would lawmakers to reject any insurance mandates included with a proposed national health care overhaul.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Monday that the state had no plans to challenge the health care legislation once it is signed into law. Officials in several states have said they plan to challenge the health overhaul.

“We believe that a lawsuit would be frivolous and have more to do with politics than with the law,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for McDaniel’s office.


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