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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Health Care Reform Hits Home

Rally for Obama, counting votes and contributions

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Sunday’s standing-room only Organizing for America rally at American Serb Hall helped to galvanize support for President Barack Obama’s broad plans for health care reform.

Without getting bogged down in details, the crowd called on members of Congress to support Obama’s three principles for health care reform: reduce costs for families, businesses and government; protect people’s choices of doctors and health plans—including the choice of a public insurance option; and assure access to affordable, quality health care for all.

“This is an economic issue that’s bringing America to her knees,” said Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore, the rally’s featured speaker.

Milwaukee Alderman Nik Kovac, a member of the Common Council’s Finance and Personnel Committee, said that the city spends $115 million to insure city workers each year, about 20% of the city’s operating budget. He said costs could rise 20%, and divert money away from other city services. “If the costs keep going up, we’re not going to be able to do much else,” Kovac said.

Robert Kraig, program director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said that a public health insurance plan is the only way to prevent the insurance industry from engaging in abusive practices and charging high rates. “The special interests will attempt to undermine regulations if there is no public plan,” Kraig said.

Patricia McManus, executive director of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, said that health care reform “is about how to figure out how to pay for a right— the right to life.”

Counting Votes and Contributions

Speakers called on supporters to fight for health care reform—including a strong public option.

Moore and Sen. Russ Feingold, both Democrats, have pledged their support for a public option. While Sen. Herb Kohl’s position was called into question at Sunday’s rally, his spokeswoman, Ashley Glacel, told the Shepherd that the senator is “pro-public option, but he wants it to make sense, not break the bank, and be something that has a lot of support because it’s good policy.”

Glacel said that Kohl doesn’t commit his vote before a specific piece of legislation has been introduced, and the Senate is still working on its version of a reform package. “He will never declare how he’s going to vote on something he hasn’t seen yet,” Glacel said.

The area’s two Republican members of Congress, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. Paul Ryan, both oppose a public option. Sensenbrenner has argued that it’s too expensive, while Ryan has criti cized further government involvement in health care.

The insurance industry has been Ryan’s top contributor over his entire career, with $475,401 in donations, according to OpenSecrets.org, the Web site of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The insurance industry is Sensenbrenner’s second most generous contributor, with donations totaling $250,898 since 1989. (The Web site’s database tracks contributions from 1989 to the present.)

Moore has received $85,500 from the insurance industry over the course of her career. Six industries have contributed more money to Moore since being elected to Congress in 2004.

OpenSecrets.org shows no insurance industry contributions to Feingold or Kohl.

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