Less than 24 hours after the U.S. House passed a history-making overhaul of the American health care system, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee was in a grungy backroom of the Georgia World Congress Center – watching his salad wilt as one more reporter quizzed him about the implications of health care.
Former Virginia governor Tim Kaine was the keynote of Monday night’s annual state Democratic fund-raiser, which gathered 1,600 or so people into the Tom Murphy Ballroom.
Some excerpts from the backroom interview:
Q: Sunday morning, you were on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Did you know then you had the votes?
Kaine: I was highly confident, but I did not know the outcome. There were still some moving pieces – largely the discussion[s] with Bart Stupak and those who had been with the first round. Those were still ongoing. I was quite optimistic [Sunday] morning, but it was not yet soup, as they say.
Q: CNN has a poll that says 59 percent of Americans oppose the health care bill just passed. What do you tell Georgia Democrats, especially those running for office?
Kaine:When the bill is signed, then certain things happen and people start to see it. The other side has put so much dust in the air that polling generally about health care might say something, but in terms of the particular provisions – look, seniors in Georgia are going to start getting a break on prescription drugs purchases immediately.
Small businesses are going to start to get a tax break immediately to help cover costs that many of them are already incurring, to insure their employees.
Parents will be able to keep their kids on their policy until they’re age 26. That’s a couple months down the road, but that is of huge importance.
And some of the most abusive insurance practices – pre-existing condition, lifetime benefit caps, which push people into bankruptcy – those will be made illegal this year.
There are solid benefits that Americans will see right away. Then they’ll look around and say, “Gosh, the other guy said there would be a death panel.” Well, there isn’t. “They said I’d have to change my doctor. It’d be some bureaucrat telling me who my doctor is.” That’s not happening. So all the bogeyman arguments the other guys created were fiction, and the American public will see that.
I think people will figure out pretty quickly that it was largely insurance industry-generated hype that the Rs were basically shilling, and it was basically inaccurate.
Q: So you’re willing to let Republicans chase repeal of health care legislation?
Kaine: I encourage it. ‘Bring back pre-existing conditions’ is one helluva bumper sticker, if they want to use it. Alf Landon campaigned on repeal of Social Security in 1936….
There were five different committees, there were different committee versions of bills, there were two House bills – it made it easy for the other guys to make stuff up when there were so many different versions. But now there is a bill, there is a law. People will start to experience some of the benefits.
Q: Gov. Sonny Perdue is demanding that all Democrats running for office should be asked whether they favor the Barack Obama/Nancy Pelosi health care system.
Kaine: I think all the Republican candidates should be asked, “Do they want to be nonstop shills for the insurance industry rather than help people solve their health care needs.”
The Democratic party – we’re the problem-solvers. The other guys stood on the sideline, and they threw rocks, and they whipped up all this opposition with money from the insurance industry to help them. They had a chance to constructively participate.
I think there’s going to be clear accountability. The American public is going to reward problem-solvers, and they’re going to punish those who basically decided to – I think it’s almost an abdication of your oath of office, to just decide you’re going to throw rocks.
Q: Will Americans embrace the new health care system by November?
Kaine: I believe it will, for two reasons. First, outside the Beltway, what would be the principle critique you hear of Washington? Partisan language and they won’t do anything. The party in power is willing to act, and willing to act in a tough area. Second, there are these discrete individual benefits that people will see. Both of those will help Democrats. The Washington [that's] gridlocked and nothing happens – that’s not us.
Q: Are you going to celebrate in your speech tonight?
Kaine:Yeah, I’m going to celebrate. Democrats have Social Security, they have Medicaid/Medicare, they have the Civil Rights bills up on the mantle – as things that are really important, that Democrats did. This is going to be one of those, 50 years from now.
Sonny Perdue’s focus on U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Albany) in the health care aftermath should be taken as a sign that Republicans may be targeting the southwest Georgia congressman this year.
Chuck Williams at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has this religious tidbit on the topic today:
As Sanford Bishop considered how he would vote on the historic health care legislation Sunday night, the nine-term Democratic congressman turned to his faith.
“I asked myself, ‘What would Jesus do?’” Bishop said Monday afternoon. “I had to come to the conclusion we had the opportunity to get more than 32 million people health insurance. I don’t think he would leave them to fend for themselves.”
That is not the immediate reaction of Mike Keown. a South Georgia Republican and pastor who hopes to take Bishop’s job in November.
“My response when the vote came down was, ‘It’s on now,’” said Keown, pastor of Coolidge (Ga.) Memorial Baptist Church.
Keown, a South Georgia Republican state representative, plans to challenge Bishop for the Second Congressional district seat.
The damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dilemma for Georgia Democrats was never more clear than in this item from the Savannah Morning News:
This past Saturday afternoon, Congressman John Barrow held a conference call with more than 50 African American faith and community leaders from Savannah and Augusta. The call, which lasted nearly an hour, was to discuss his planned vote against healthcare reform the following day.
Barrow tried to explain his position to the group, who simultaneously made a plea for him to change his mind.
“I want y’all to understand my position, but I don’t expect you to support it or agree with it,” Barrow told the group.
He said the bill failed to include provisions for maintaining health care providers who accept Medicaid in rural areas. The chance that some people in rural areas would lose access to healthcare, for him, outweighed any potential good the bill might have done for those without access to health care or health insurance. He also said the bill will raise taxes on the middle class.
On Monday night, state Rep. Rob Teilhet passed out flyers informing attendees at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner that his primary rival in the attorney general’s race, Ken Hodges, had made a series of campaign contributions to Republican Saxby Chambliss over the years.
“It’s only March, and Teilhet’s already run out of positive things to say about himself. That didn’t take long,” said Hodges spokesman Jonathan Williams.
The Hodges campaign quickly dug up evidence that, in 2003, Teilhet had made a $300 contribution to the congressional campaign of Chuck Clay, the former chairman of the state GOP.
The Teilhet campaign ripostes that there was no Democrat in that race to fill the U.S. House seat left by Johnny Isakson.
State Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), one of 13 candidates chasing the 9th District seat of U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, announced Monday night that he had resigned his House seat in order to qualify for the April 27 special election called by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
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