WASHINGTON – After a week of pressure from both sides, Rep. Frank Kratovil said Friday he’s unlikely to go along with the current plan to get a broad health care bill through Congress, suggesting instead that the legislation be split into a series of smaller bills.
In an interview with Capital News Service, Kratovil, D-Stevensville, said he recognizes the need to move the process forward, but argued that the plan advanced by President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership allows Republicans to continue to obstruct health care reform on a purely partisan basis.
“There are those who want to make this a political statement about the president and so forth and defeat it simply for those reasons,” Kratovil said. “I think the process that we’re talking about doing, in some ways, allows them the ability to do so.”
Kratovil was one of 39 Democrats who voted no when the House passed a health care bill, 220-215, in November. Instead of being swayed by party leaders in need of votes, Kratovil appears ready to vote no again.
Although details of the strategy are still being worked out, Democrats hope to first convince the House to pass the Senate version of the bill. Party leaders have said they hope to then pass a set of fixes to the bill using the controversial reconciliation process in the Senate, which would allow legislation to pass with only 51 votes rather than the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster.
A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, confirmed that House leadership plans to put the Senate bill to a vote.
“It is the prerogative of each member to determine how they will vote,” Hoyer said in an e-mail.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is on a final push to gather the 217 votes needed to get the Senate bill through the House. Those efforts have focused on two groups of skeptical Democrats; those who strictly oppose federal funding for abortion and fiscal conservatives concerned about the bill’s effects on the deficit. Kratovil, a freshman facing a tough re-election fight in the Republican-leaning 1st District, fits squarely in the latter.
Kratovil said he will vote no if, as expected, the House is asked to pass the Senate version of the bill.
By splitting the legislation into smaller bills, Kratovil said Republicans would be forced to vote yes or no on the provisions they claim to agree with, which would help clearly define those who want to reform health care from those who only want to block the majority party.
“The way we’re moving forward — from the public’s perception — is perceived as all or nothing,” Kratovil said. “I don’t think it needs to be zero sum.”
Kratovil rejected the idea that the entire process should be reset, saying that breaking the legislation down to individual parts would be the best way to reach middle ground.
Creating a federal insurance exchange, allowing competition across state lines and allowing young people to stay longer on family insurance plans were cited by Kratovil as examples of industry reforms he thinks could pass as standalone bills.
Addressing the issues one by one would boost public confidence in the process and would avoid the expected controversy over using reconciliation, Kratovil said.
Both sides of the debate competed for Kratovil’s ear this week. On Wednesday, he was one of 31 members of Congress invited to a reception at the White House. The stated purpose of the event was to thank the attendees for supporting the recently enacted pay-as-you-go legislation. But Kratovil was one of 10 invitees from the House who voted against health care reform last year, which led to speculation that Democratic leaders were also using the occasion to convince skeptics to change their votes.
“That pressure is only as great as you allow it to be,” said Kratovil. “I make my decisions based on the facts.”
On Thursday, the National Republican Congressional Committee made thousands of automated phone calls into Kratovil’s district, urging constituents to call their congressman and press him to vote no again.
“It would be hard for his constituents to trust him to oppose every form of Obama’s healthcare takeover,” said Andy Sere, a spokesman for the NRCC. “In terms of stopping this bill as it is now, we’re glad that the phone calls seem to have helped.”
Michael Cain, the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College, said that Kratovil’s stance against the current health care reform proposal is good for his standing in the district, but the health care issue in general could be an albatross around his neck even if he votes no.
“In some ways, his vote might be overshadowed if the bill is passed,” Cain said. “It could be that the first District wants to send a message by bringing back a Republican.”