Terry-White health care battle ahead

By DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star | Posted: Monday, March 22, 2010

Omaha's congressional district will be a health care reform battleground this election year.

But Republican Rep. Lee Terry said Monday he's not ready to frame his contest with Democratic challenger Tom White as a referendum on the health care plan enacted by the House Sunday evening.

"Undecided yet," Terry said when asked during a telephone interview from Washington whether that'll be an overriding campaign theme.

"But, obviously this will be a major difference between us," he said.

Terry joined all his Republican colleagues in voting against the legislation.

White on Monday described the health care reform package approved by the House as "far from perfect, but better than continuing with the status quo."

That, he said, matches the assessment of Omaha investment icon Warren Buffett as well as his own experiences as a cancer survivor and small business owner.

"Now it's time for Congress to turn to fixing the economy, getting our fiscal house in order, and restoring the economic and job growth the country so desperately needs," White said.

Terry said it's too early to speculate on whether health care reform might be the defining issue in his 2nd District contest with White.

"We've already pivoted on Capitol Hill to amnesty (regarding immigration)," he said. "Maybe that will be the one."

However, Terry suggested, the only way to make major changes in the health care reform legislation is to elect enough Republicans this November to hand control of the House to his party.

That would provide the leverage required to "get people to work together," the six-term congressman said.

"I'd settle for a check and balance and take what we can get," Terry said. "There are parts we could repeal," he said.

Repeal of the entire package probably is not possible as long as President Barack Obama is in the White House, he said, since the president could wield his veto power.

"So, 2012 may be the opportunity," Terry said. "Until then, you pick your spots and try to make some changes."

White said the bill contains important reforms.

"The good news is that it prohibits discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, closes the Medicare (prescription drug) doughnut hole, and provides tax credits so small businesses can better afford health care for their employees," he said.

White dismissed some Republican claims.

"The bill is not a government takeover of health care," he said.

"And it respects the sanctity of life."

Terry said the bill also raises other fundamental issues like increased spending and big government that will be part of the 2010 campaign.

And, he said, most Americans remain disturbed by "the particularly distasteful, if not brutal, process" employed by Democrats in enacting the legislation.

In other fallout from the House vote, Attorney General Jon Bruning announced that he will join other state attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of the law.

"It tramples on individual liberty and dumps on the states the burden of an unfunded mandate that taxpayers cannot afford," Bruning said.

Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, who represents western and central Nebraska's 3rd District, said Congress has failed to listen to the American people.

"No dollar figure can represent the true cost of the legislation, not only for our country's economic future, but also for our personal freedoms," Smith said.

Meanwhile, Organizing for America's Nebraska director Timothy Anderson hailed passage of the bill.

It's "a major victory for middle class families and the small businesses that are the engine of our country," he said.

Organizing for America is the successor to Obama's 2008 campaign organization.

Change That Works, a progressive political organization, celebrated enactment of the legislation with a small rally outside Terry's congressional office in Omaha.

"We are disappointed Rep. Terry did not have the courage to stand up to insurance companies and other special interests," state director Jane Kleeb said.


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