The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Members of Congress Play Key Role in Health Care Debate

Posted on November 24, 2009 at 04:31 PM

Members of Congress from the eight-state Greater Mississippi Delta region are playing a key role in the health care debate. This is a deeply controversial subject, and we respect all points of view. The Delta Caucus is a broad coalition with differing points of view. Our region suffers from health care problems that are far worse than the country as a whole, and the great majority of our partners believe that something must be done now to improve health care for the underserved Delta and America as a whole.

In one very important vote, two Senators from the Delta–Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana–who recently spoke on health care issues at our annual conference in Washington, DC cast the deciding votes to open the Senate’s health care debate. The vote was 60-39 to prevent a filibuster by Republican Senators. Sen. Landrieu was the next to last Senator to indicate her position, and the outcome of the vote was still in doubt until Sen. Lincoln gave a speech on the Senate floor on Nov. 21, 2009 to announce that launching debate was the beginning of the process and not the end. Sen. Lincoln’s vote was the pivotal 60th vote needed to prevent a filibuster.

Sen. Lincoln has reservations about some parts of the bill, but said “Although I don’t agree with everything in this bill, I have concluded that I believe it is more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation’s health care system for all Americans rather than just simply drop the issue and walk away. That is not what people sent us here to do.”

Sen. Lincoln’s position that the process should be debated and come to a vote rather than die from a filibuster is logical and our majority agrees with it. We know that even this is controversial and would ask that we continue to have a respectful, cordial discussion, as we have done all year, in contrast to many other forums where the debate degenerated into shouting matches.

Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted for the measure and has indicated that he could vote for a public option. Rep. Joseph Cao, Republican of Louisiana, voted for the House version of the bill. There are also Members of Congress for whom our coalition has great respect who did NOT vote for the bill, including not just Republicans we regard highly such as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, but Democrat Mike Ross of Arkansas. We respect the point of view of excellent Members of Congress like Rep. Ross and Rep. Emerson and everyone involved in this debate, and believe there has been far too much acrimony.

While we recognize that even Sen. Lincoln’s vote to begin the debate was highly controversial, we agree with the idea that in a democracy, the views of the majority should prevail. The people elected a majority of Senators who wanted the debate to go forward. While Sen. Lincoln is still analyzing the legislation, she has expressed strong reservations about a bill that included a public option and again voiced her opposition to that version of health care reform. Rep. Ross, Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) and others also oppose the public option.

We have monitored the views of many partners in our coalition for many months now. A majority are either for a public option or are for having the choice of a public option where states can opt out of it if they so choose. This has seemed to be a reasonable compromise, in many people’s point of view. There is another group who would support the version of a bill providing for cooperatives that Sen. Lincoln made a good case for in her presentation to the Delta Caucus annual conference several weeks back. There are also those in our group who oppose health care legislation this year, although they are in a minority.

We should keep in mind that we do not yet have the final bill and there is plenty of time for different points of view and voices to be heard.

Rep. Marion Berry and Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas voted for the House version of the bill. Rep. Berry is a pharmacist who brings a great deal of expertise and experience in health care to this debate, as does Rep. Snyder, who is a medical doctor.

Sen. Lincoln said that she preferred the Finance Committee’s version of the bill, which did not contain a public option. She indicated that she would work for a final bill that will “be more closely resembling the common-sense, deficit reducing plan” the Finance Committee approved.

Sen. Mark Pryor said “It’s time for Congress to move forward with a robust floor debate on health-care reform. In the end, I hope to be able to vote for a bill that will allow coverage to be affordable, reliable and accessible without breaking the bank.”

The Senate version of the bill would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide subsidies to those who couldn’t afford it. Bigger companies could incur costs if they fail to provide coverage for their employees. There will be additional new regulations of the insurance industry by first restricting and then prohibiting the practice of denying coverage to people because they have pre-existing conditions.

Nonpartisan Congressional budget analysts said that over a 10-year period the legislation will reduce federal deficits while extending coverage to 94% of the eligible population, with the legislation’s cost being estimated at $979 billion over that decade.

We should respect the partners’ views who are not in favor of a public option. Sen. Lincoln is chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and is also a member of the powerful Finance Committee. She was quoted in national media stories this fall that stated she spoke to the Delta Caucus in Washington, DC in favor of the Finance Committee version, which does not have a public option. She spoke favorably of the plan to pool coverage into coops, creating benefits from having customers pool their purchasing power.

She told the Delta Caucus conference that the cooperatives’ idea is “not government creating health care, it’s government creating an environment where private industry works for consumers. You’re saying to the private industry, ‘OK, fight for our business.’”

Whatever version of health care legislation you prefer, please convey your views to your Members of Congress and participate in the process. The Delta badly needs improved health care. Delta Grassroots Caucus (202) 360-6347