By DAVID SKOLNICK
When it comes to Sunday’s landmark health-care vote, U.S. House members who represent the Mahoning and Shenango valleys have differing opinions.
U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire of McCandless, Pa., D-4th, says he will vote against the bill.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper of Erie, Pa., D-3rd was still undecided Friday night.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who voted for the House’s first health-care bill in November remains a firm yes on the bill to be considered Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, also voted yes during the first House vote. He was undecided on supporting this new, scaled-down bill, but announced Friday that he would support it.
U.S. Rep John Boccieri of Alliance, D-16th, announced Friday morning that he was switching his vote to yes. He opposed the House version of the bill last November, but said at Friday’s press conference that he was thinking of his own mother’s past fight against breast cancer in deciding to change his vote.
U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Bainbridge, R-14th, opposed the original health bill and said he will vote no again Sunday.
The House is voting on a bill similar to one approved by the U.S. Senate in December. The two legislative bodies will reconcile the differences in the two bills.
Wilson said Friday he supports the bill after reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that the proposal would cut the federal deficit by $138 billion over its first 10 years.
“This bill is not perfect, but it is a strong step forward,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need this reform. Families need this reform. Our economy needs this reform.”
Wilson, who is anti-abortion, said he gave serious consideration to the possibility that the bill would fund abortions.
“I am confident that the language in the Senate bill ensures that there will be no federal funding for abortions,” Wilson said.
Ryan, who is also anti-abortion, said support of the bill by those who represent 59,000 Catholic nuns and from agencies that run about 1,200 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes shows taxpayer funding won’t go for elective abortions.
Passage of the health-care bill is “critical” to middle-class families, small businesses and low-income people who can’t afford health insurance, he said.
“Economically, we have to do it,” Ryan said. “The bill isn’t perfect. It’s not a panacea. Once it passes and takes effect, it will dismiss the myths and misconceptions people have about the bill.”
The bill could be signed into law in a few weeks, he said.
“It isn’t a giant government takeover,” Ryan said. “There’s not even a public option.”
Among the bill’s key points are: expanding coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans; prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions or dropping coverage when a person becomes ill, imposing annual or lifetime limits on care; requiring free preventive care; and allowing people up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ health-care coverage.
“This is middle-of-the-road stuff,” Ryan said. “There’s nothing to be afraid of here. I have no interest in hurting business. My No. 1 goal is to grow businesses. This will be looked back on as something that helped the country.”
Others aren’t convinced.
“The bill was bad before because it spent too much, taxed too much and raised health-care premiums too high,” LaTourette said. The congressman added that the new bill doesn’t resolve those problems.
Also, U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican who voted against the bill in the Senate, told The Vindicator on Friday he “was against the bill from the beginning. It went too far in terms of cost.”
The country is “fragile right now. We are bankrupt. We’re ready to go off the cliff,” Voinovich said. To pass a health-care bill in troubled economic times “is crazy. This doesn’t make sense. How are you going to pay for it?”
Unlike Wilson and Ryan, Voinovich said the bill would pay for abortions.
“Why should I or anybody else have my tax dollars pay for something that from my perspective is not moral?” Voinovich said.
When asked if it’s acceptable for those who oppose wars or death-penalty executions to have their tax dollars used for those purposes, Voinovich said, “I’m not going to argue.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who voted for the bill in the Senate, said: “We can’t forget that health reform is about people. It’s about ensuring that health coverage is dependable, even if you get sick or lose your job.”
Dahlkemper voted for the first health-care bill while Altmire voted against it.
Marie Francis, a Dahlkemper spokeswoman, said, “The congresswoman is reviewing both the bill text and the CBO report as well as listening to the opinions of her constituents, who have contacted the office in very high numbers. She is giving the legislation full consideration.”
Altmire, one of 39 Democrats who voted against the original bill in November, says he can’t support the bill. In a prepared statement he said: “I regret that this year-long process of debating health care reform has resulted in a final product that I cannot support. The cost of inaction on health care is great, but it would be an even bigger mistake to pass a bill that could compound the problem of skyrocketing health care costs.
“It has become clear that the vast majority of my constituents want me to oppose this bill. Particularly hard hit would be western Pennsylvania’s Medicare beneficiaries, which many experts believe would experience dramatic premium increases with enactment of this bill.”