News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

January 23, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Battle of Wills

Freshman congressman Larry Bucshon takes aim at ObamaCare, thinks Democrats and Republicans can coexist peacefully

TERRE HAUTE — "Serenity now” is hardly the mantra inside the halls of Congress.

Calls for bipartisanship last about as long as New Year’s resolutions. A divisive fight over one issue produces gloating and anger, and the grudges fester and grow. Such rancor peaked during last year’s battle over President Obama’s Affordable Health Care for America Act. Now, the new Republican majority in the U.S. House — swept into power in November by a disgruntled electorate — has begun the contentious, uphill process of dismantling the health care reform law.

The 112th session of Congress seems ripe for more of the same bitter duels, with extremism trampling compromise.

Sworn into his freshman term on Capitol Hill just 19 days ago, Larry Bucshon thinks Democrats and Republicans can coexist peacefully, and might even be able to work together, despite deep political differences. At least, that’s what Bucshon intends to do as he begins representing the Indiana 8th District in the U.S. House.

“I’m starting to see a little break in the polarization already,” Bucshon said by telephone Wednesday.

“None of us are going to be willing to compromise our values, or our moral values, or what we believe in,” he added, “but I think the tone of the debate is much better.”

America wondered how members of Congress would conduct themselves as House Republicans followed through on their campaign promises to “repeal and replace ObamaCare” (the GOP’s derisive label), especially after the shocking assassination attempt on their colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, which wounded her and a dozen other people, and killed six others.

On Wednesday, the House approved the Republicans’ “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” Bucshon, a heart surgeon from Warrick County, voted for repeal, which passed 245-189. Every Republican voted for the repeal. All but three Democrats — a trio of conservative Blue Dogs — voted against the repeal. That party-line outcome looks like the same-old, same-old from Congress, but Bucshon saw civility, at least.

The incident in Arizona hasn’t changed “the substance of the debate,” Bucshon said. “I do think it appears to me, based on the debate they had last year on health care, that the tone on both sides is appropriately respectful, and everyone’s making their arguments in a respectful, honest-disagreement fashion.

“There will probably be a few people that will be a little less of that, maybe a little more boisterous,” he added, “but I think the tone, for overall, has been good today.”

Favors ‘market-based’ reforms

The substance of Bucshon’s opinion about the health care reform act hasn’t changed. Though he believes some popular provisions in the law should be preserved in a replacement bill, Bucshon favors “market-based solutions” instead of a “government takeover.” The reform law also doesn’t address rising health care costs, he said. He particularly opposes the “latitude” the law gives the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to implement the reforms, and “decide what treatments are effective, whether or not you qualify for a certain treatment, whether or not doctors can provide certain treatments,” Bucshon said.

“You’re going to see a significant deterioration in the basic thing that we need in health care,” he said, “and that’s a solid doctor-patient relationship.”

Most Americans want “ObamaCare” repealed, said Bucshon, a 48-year-old husband and father of four.

“Depending on which poll you look at, overall, a very small percentage of the American people think this health care bill should not be either completely repealed or significantly changed,” he said. A clear majority of his 8th District constituents want a complete repeal, Bucshon added.

Nonetheless, popular aspects of the law should “absolutely” be included in a “replacement bill,” Bucshon emphasized. Those provisions include prohibiting insurers from refusing coverage because of a person’s pre-existing conditions; preventing insurers from canceling coverage after a costly illness strikes; eliminating lifetime caps on coverage costs; and allowing parents to keep kids on their insurance policies until age 26.

“These are all things that everybody agrees on,” Bucshon said.

Of course, not everybody agrees with Bucshon’s reasons for pursuing a repeal of the law.

The list includes Bill Frist, a fellow heart surgeon and Republican, and the former Senate majority leader. Last week, Frist urged House Republicans to end their quest for a repeal, and instead focus on mending the law’s flaws. (Frist and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, are leading a Bipartisan Policy Center effort to help states implement “health insurance exchanges” aimed at extending coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans.) Also, many question the relevance of the House Republicans’ repeal effort. The Senate, with a Democrat majority, will undoubtedly reject the repeal, and may never actually vote on it, if Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., refuses. Even if the Senate somehow agreed with the repeal, President Obama would certainly veto it.

Bucshon acknowledges those political realities. “But if you listen to the American people, which I did during my campaign — I listened to the people in my district — it’s very clear what needs to be done,” he said, referring to a repeal of the law. “We need to have private-sector reforms, not the status quo. And we need to minimize government intervention in our everyday lives and keep our personal freedoms.”

Mixed poll results

Not everybody agrees with Bucshon’s perception that the majority of Americans want the law repealed. The latest polls reflect mixed opinions from the public.

Bucshon cited a recent poll indicating only 13 percent of people are in favor of keeping the law as-is. Other polls also show sizable opposition to the law, but for different reasons. An Associated Press survey found only 26 percent of respondents favored full repeal, while 43 percent want the law expanded to do more. In a Marist College poll, 35 percent supported an expansion and 30 percent wanted to scrap the law, the Washington Post reported. Rasmussen, a Fox News polling service, showed 55 percent of those surveyed endorsing a repeal, and 40 percent supporting the law. And, in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 26 percent wanted full repeal, 25 percent wanted some provisions repealed and others kept, 20 percent liked it as-is, and 20 percent wanted more reforms.

Also, Republican assertions that “ObamaCare” amounts to a “government takeover” and is “job killing” were disputed by PolitiFact.com, a fact-checking project by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Coverage would still be paid by private employers and individual premiums, PolitiFact stated. As for job killing, PolitiFact said the GOP isn’t fully explaining the Congressional Budget Office statistics it uses to claim the law will eliminate 1.6 million jobs. The figure includes some Americans who have continued working only to preserve their health insurance coverage. It also relies on a study done by the National Federation of Independent Businesses which was conducted in January 2009, 11 months before the law passed in markedly compromised form. The final bill doesn’t match the NFIB presumptions, PolitiFact said.

But the repeal effort also involves philosophical differences over a regulatory system replacing personal freedom, said Bucshon, who grew up in rural central Illinois as the son of a coal miner and a nurse.

“That is a basic, fundamental thing that I’m worried about, is that we’re going to lose autonomy for our own personal freedom and our own personal choice,” he said. “And we’re going to have government bureaucrats meeting in Washington, D.C., and deciding whether or not a certain treatment will be beneficial to us, regardless of the science and basing it primarily on the amount of money that it’s going to cost, and whether or not we can continue to afford to pay for treatments that are necessary.”

And, so the president, the Democrats and the Republicans remain in disagreement about what the law does and doesn’t do. House GOP leaders intend to “defund” the health care act if they can’t repeal it, by blocking future Health and Human Services funding requests.

Sounds like a battle of the wills — two clashing views of “the will of the people.”

Can House Republicans and President Obama develop a decent, workable relationship in Washington?

“You know, I think that remains to be seen,” Bucshon said. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that can happen, but since I haven’t been here for very long, I’ll have to see.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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