Pomeroy defends pushing bill forward
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., said Friday that he voted for the House health care reform bill last week to "keep the process moving, so we don't let health care reform snuff out."
Faced with an imperfect bill - but one he believes was made considerably more palatable before passage - the choice was between continuing to "improve it (and) keep it moving or shut it down," he said.
Defeat in the House last weekend would have meant defeat for any reform this session, he said, "and we absolutely must not walk away from reform at this point."
Pomeroy had said earlier last week that he voted for the bill to move the legislation forward but could not guarantee he'd vote for a version that may come back to the House following a House-Senate conference committee.
That drew criticism Friday from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which suggested that he was "already trying to distance himself from his vote for the trillion-dollar government takeover of health care."
Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the committee, said Pomeroy "knows he's going to pay a price for his vote, so now he's looking for ways to put the genie back in the bottle."
But "it's too late for Pomeroy's about-face," Erickson said. "He already cast one of the key votes. ... Pomeroy's case of buyer's remorse is nothing more than a blatant attempt to get back in the good graces of North Dakota voters who are growing increasingly restless (with) Pomeroy's decision to put (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi's reckless agenda ahead of their needs."
Pomeroy said there's been no "about-face" or attempt to distance himself from the bill, which passed on a 220-215 vote.
He voted for it, he said, after some changes he advocated were adopted, including "removing they most threatening part of (a) public option," a provision that such a government-run insurance alternative would negotiate payment rates with providers instead of basing them on Medicare reimbursement rates.
He said he expects the final Senate bill - and any bill that may emerge from a conference committee - "will look more like the Senate Finance Committee bill," which includes a cooperatives alternative to a public option to compete with private insurance companies.
Passage of any health care reform this session "is not a foregone conclusion," Pomeroy reiterated Friday, speaking to members of the Herald editorial board. "We're in the middle of a very difficult undertaking," which he said is starting to resemble the late stages of a hard-fought re-election campaign.
Opponents of the Democrats' health care reform efforts "are carpet-bombing the airwaves to distort the issue," he said, citing one group's spending of $150,000 for "campaign-style TV ads (played) at saturation levels (saying) I betrayed North Dakota seniors."
Also, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending $266,000 on TV ads opposing the Democrats' bills, he said, including two running in North Dakota, "one attacking me, and one attacking the (House-passed) bill."
The ads are "campaign-style scare tactics that fundamentally distort the legislation at issue," Pomeroy said, citing claims in the ads that the bill would restrict a patient's right to choose a doctor and that seniors' Medicare benefits would be reduced.
North Dakotans "are being misled," he said. "This is a different and I think unfortunate way that legislative lobbying is being conducted. It calls into question whether Congress can tackle the task."
Pomeroy said that before he commits to voting for the final version of reform legislation, "I want to see more in long-term cost containment in the final bill. We've got to meaningfully address rising costs if we're going to have a stable health care system."
The vote last weekend "was an important vote, but it was a vote to keep working on this or pack it in," he said. Voting against it would have meant "jeopardizing if not scuttling the health reform effort."
Chuck Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.