U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District was one of 219 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote Sunday for the landmark health care reform package that has transfixed and divided the country for more than a year. The bill passed the House 220-215, with one Republican voting in favor of the bill and 39 Democrats voting against it.
Earlier this week, the Lakes Region Weekly asked Pingree to address issues that have arisen during the health care debate.
Q: You’ve made it clear throughout the proceedings that you support universal health care. We’ve heard of the many “sweetheart” deals for states whose representatives were initially hesitant of the health care bill. How do you feel about other legislators trading their vote for deals on an important issue like health care? Did you secure any special deals for Maine in return for your vote?
A: I share my constituents’ concerns and frustration with a lot of those deals that happened in the Senate – they took the focus away from the real issue of improving people’s health care. But we took those provisions out in the House version we passed, including the ones for Nebraska and Florida. I didn’t ask for any “special deals” for Maine; this bill will already do so much for Mainers.
Q: President Obama said the entire health care debate would be on C-SPAN. By members’ and the President’s own admission, it was not. How do you feel about the transparency of the process?
A: We’ve been debating this bill, in one form or another, for months using the same process as for any other bill – and a lot has been done to make this even more visible. I certainly think there’s nothing to hide, so my office has worked hard to keep it transparent for Maine people who have a right to know what’s going on in Washington.
Q: Americans will pay for this bill starting this year but won’t receive coverage for four years. Why the delay?
A: Many significant portions of this bill take effect very quickly – providing tax credits for small businesses, fully covering preventive care for Medicare recipients, banning insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick, extending coverage for dependents, and eliminating lifetime coverage limits are just a few.
It will take time to implement some of the bigger changes in this bill, like insurance exchanges, but there are many that will have immediate benefits for people.
Q: After Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, it seemed the health care bill was dead. How did it come back to life? Did you play a role in reviving it?
A: Depending on whom you talk to, the health care bill has been “dead” more than it’s been alive. There were certainly some obstacles to passing this bill, but each one gave us an opportunity to build a stronger bill. Some thought the bill was “dead” but the issue always remained a priority – people from Maine kept calling my office to tell me that it was important to take action. We could’ve stopped, but the problem wouldn’t have gone away. I never stopped urging my colleagues ¬- both in the House and Senate – that we needed to keep moving to a solution and needed to act on a strong bill.
Q: Speaker Nancy Pelosi said once the bill was passed, the American people could get a chance to see what’s in the bill. What do you think about that statement?
A: I think people in Maine certainly have a right to know what’s being discussed, which is why my office has worked to make sure people know what has been discussed for health care reform throughout the last year. In this latest vote, we posted this bill online as soon as the language was set and encouraged constituents to read it. In the months ahead we will continue to reach out to the public. I encourage anyone with questions about the legislation to contact my office or visit my Web site.
Q: Did you read the entire bill?
A: Yes. I read the entire bill when it was introduced back in July as well as all the revisions since then. There’s not as much to read as people may think – it’s a lot of pages, but the type is big and it’s triple-spaced for markup.
Q: Some people think this bill will usher in a European-esque social democracy. Some pundits go further and say this is socialism. How would you respond to these claims?
A: This health-care debate is about finally taking action on a serious problem: cracking down on the big insurance companies and giving Americans quality health care they can afford. That is what it’s all about and anything else is just a distraction from the real issue.
Q: How will this legislation affect Mainers?
A: The reform we passed Sunday will improve health care for 225,000 Maine seniors, strengthen Medicare, crack down on insurance industry practices, give small businesses and individuals a tax break to buy insurance and reduce the deficit by $143 billion. It will help insure those who have no coverage, provide better coverage to those who do, and create better care for all.
Q: Is it repeal-proof?
A: Any repeal at this point would be taking care away from people, taking away new rights, bringing the roadblocks back to our health-care system. That’s not going to be an easy thing to justify to Americans.
Q: Are you worried about being re-elected in November as a result of your vote on this bill?
A: I didn’t come to Washington to get re-elected. I came to work for what my district cares about, including passing comprehensive health-care reform.