Focus | Webb, Warner back health-care reform

Virginia Dems join 60-39 majority to move legislation forward

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner joined the 60-39 party-line Democratic majority that voted on Christmas Eve to move health-care reform forward in the Senate. Neither seemed to be jumping-up-and-down happy about it.

“I voted today in favor of health care reform legislation in the Senate. I did so despite my disappointment with some sections of the bill, which I will continue to address in the future. But the final package presented by the Majority Leader reflects many improvements that take into consideration the concerns that I and others brought forward during the debate,” Webb said in a statement to the media on Christmas Eve.

“While this legislation is far from perfect, I believe it will start to curb soaring health-care costs for consumers and businesses, reduce our federal budget deficits over time, and extend the life of the Medicare program,” Warner said in his Christmas Eve statement.

The Virginia moderates had been on the fence on the reform for most of 2009, though it was expected that in the end they would both vote to advance a bill out of the Senate and toward a House-Senate reconciliation bill that President Barack Obama hopes to have on his desk early next month.

Webb, in particular, was critical of Democratic Party leaders and President Obama himself for mismanaging the protracted discussion and consideration of the reform package.

“The Obama administration declared health-care reform to be a major domestic objective, but they did not offer the Congress a bill. Nor did they propose a specific set of objectives from which legislation could be derived. Consequently, legislation was developed independently through five different congressional committees, three in the House and two in the Senate. This resulted in a large amount of contradictory information and a great deal of confusion among our public,” Webb said in statement on his vote on the reform bill last week.

The bungled process, in Webb’s mind, took the attention away from the “substance of fixing the problem.”

“(T)he status quo of our present system, which is damaging our national economy at many levels, is unacceptable,” Webb said. “The spiraling costs for health care have become economically unsustainable at every level, from corporate America to our small businesses to individual policy holders. In addition, the billions of dollars spent on medical care for the uninsured is a burden borne not only by government at all levels, but also by tens of millions of others through higher taxes and insurance rates.”

Warner detailed a similar approach to his vote on the reform bill.

“Rising medical costs are strangling the American economy, hurting American families, and killing our ability to compete globally. This legislation represents a strong start, and includes almost every approach suggested by leading experts to try to tackle medical costs that have more than doubled in the past decade,” Warner said.

Both senators promise to keep their attention focused on the House-Senate conference and its work to reconcile the different reform bills that emerged from the two congressional bodies.

“As this bill moves to conference, the focus must remain on the goals of reducing health-care costs, increasing efficiency and accountability, and incorporating private-sector solutions to our health-care challenges,” Warner said.

I intend to examine closely the conference report produced at the next stage of the legislative process. Significant deviations from the core principles I insisted upon in the Senate compromise will lead me to withhold my support,” Webb said.

  

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