Republican Senate Win Generates Debate Over Health Care Overhaul

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(Host) Republican Scott Brown’s election to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts has generated a lot of debate about the future of the health care overhaul in Washington.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel talked to the members of Vermont’s congressional delegation about how the legislation will be affected.

(Kinzel) With Brown’s surprise election, Senate Democrats no longer have the 60 votes that are needed to break a Republican filibuster.

One option is send the Senate’s health care bill straight over to the House and to ask House members to vote on the legislation without any changes.

That could be a hard sell because there are significant differences between the two versions of the bill.  Congressman Peter Welch opposes this strategy:

(Welch) "I don’t like that approach at all. I think we have to step back and acknowledge that the voters in Massachusetts made a statement that expressed real frustration with the way things are going here."

(Kinzel) Welch says the major message from the Massachusetts election is that Congress and President Obama have been too eager to favor the big firms on Wall Street:

(Welch) "I think there’s a lot of apprehension and anger about all the attention on Wall Street this past year – and then the Wall Street that had to be bailed out is suddenly going to award itself bonuses of $150 million, and where’s the outrage on the side of government on behalf of average folks who are trying to pay their bills?"

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s not sure what direction the Democrats should take right now but he says the Republicans’ "irresponsible misuse" of the filibuster rule should spark a comprehensive review of this procedure:

(Leahy) "In the past it was always used sparingly. You might see it used once or twice in a year or in a Congress. This last year, it was 100 times – I mean that is such as total misuse – and I think that kind of irresponsibility is going to bring pressure for changes."

(Kinzel) Senator Bernie Sanders says many options are under consideration. While he’s not sure of the best approach, Sanders says he is convinced that Congress must pass a health care bill this year:

(Sanders) "It’s going to be complicated and bringing the House, the Senate and White House together in a new approach is not going to be easy. But again, I think with a healthcare system that has so many problems, with the impact of soaring healthcare costs on our economy, it’s clear to me that one way or another we’re going to have to figure out a way to go forward."

(Kinzel) Senate Republican leaders are urging the Democrats to postpone action on health care until Congress addresses issues to strengthen the economy.  Sanders says the Republicans are wrong:

(Sanders) "I think we can chew bubble gum and walk at the same time…so I don’t think it’s an ‘either or’. I think the economy does not recover unless we address health care."

(Kinzel) Sanders says he’s also very disappointed that Senate Republicans have not taken a more constructive role in drafting health care legislation.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.




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