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Montana’s reaction to health plan is laregly partisan


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Montana Republicans, aiming to impede implementation of national health care plans through legislative action next year, say that they expect it could be a winning campaign issue in the meantime. The GOP is hoping to tap into publ i c b a c k l a s h against the reform plans m o v i n g t h r o u g h Congress, especially with control of a closely divided Legislature at stake in the November elections. First thing Monday morning, the Montana Republican Party sent a note to members asking for money and help in fighting health care reform. "I have not seen energy like this on any issue," said executive director Bowen Greenwood. "We have people pouring in here. It has got to be a winning issue." Montana lawmakers aren't back in session until January 2011, although a bill draft request already filed does seek a constitutional "freedom to choose health care coverage." Republican state Sen. Jeff Essman, who chairs the GOP's legislative campaign team, said he thinks the issue will help the party even in the local races come November. "I think Montanans are an independent group of people. They like to run their own lives. They like to make their own decisions," Essman said. "I think this bill is contrary to those very basic instincts." Montana Democrats have a different take. They say the benefits of the bill, such as tax credits for small businesses, will be well received. "If Republicans want to run on a platform of opposing tax cuts for small businesses, opposing coverage for all Montanans and increasing the cost of health care, then we like our odds in November," said Kate Downen, spokeswoman for the Montana Democratic Party. Passage of the bill raised a flurry of statements and comments from legislators, candidates and parties from Montana. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., immediately blasted the passage of the bi l l . Rehberg joined al l other Republican representatives and 34 Democrats in the House in voting against the reform bill. "Today, I joined Republicans and Democrats alike in voting with the majority of Americans who believe that while doing nothing isn't an option, doing the wrong thing is far worse," Rehberg said. "The House of Representatives today failed to heed The public outcry against this bill. I support true reform that would lower the cost of health care. Merely shifting the cost from the patient to the taxpayer isn't a solution; they're the same person." But the Montana Democrats made the same kind of statement about Rehberg's vote while lauding passage of the bill. " Ye s t e r d a y r e g u l a r Montanans won a life-changing victory. Those who have fallen through the cracks of our health care system will be able to get coverage, and those who are currently covered can be secure in knowing that their health care decisions can now be made in their own homes, not insurance company boardrooms," Montana Democratic Party chair Jim Elliott said. "Thanks to both of our senators, particularly Sen. (Max) Baucus, who led this fight from the beginning and believed in health care reform when obstructionists declared i t impossible to achieve. "Unfortunately Congressman Rehberg opposed reform from the start without offering solutions of his own," Elliott added. "And now he — along with those who unsuccessfully tried to stand in the way of improving the lives of millions — will have to watch from the sidelines as the Montanans he claims to represent see immediate benefits as a result of yesterday's historic vote." Two of Rehberg's Democratic opponents in the 2010 election, Dennis McDonald and Tyler Gernant, also issued statements blasting Rehberg. "While I support the bill, I clearly understand that it wasn't perfect. From the first day that I am in Congress, I intend to improve it," Gernant said. "What is also clear by today's vote is that Dennis Rehberg forgot about the 160,000 Montanans who go without healthcare each day," Gernant added. "So whi le Denni s Rehberg fights for his party's salvation, I am going to standup for the uninsured who are drowning in debt, all because they can't afford healthcare." McDonald, also saying the bill isn't perfect and needs work, said he would have voted for it. "I'm not surprised by his vote, but I'm disappointed," he said. "My hope was that Rehberg would put Montana small businesses and Montana families ahead of special interests and Washington lobbyists. Unfo r t una t e l y, o u r l one Congressman has a history of making these bad decisions." The state Republicans took it a step further, calling on state Attorney General Steve Bullock — a Democrat — to join some other state attorneys general to oppose the reform bill in court. Both of Montana's senators applauded the bill's passage. "Today is a historic day for our state and our nation," Baucus, who was a key writer of the Senate bill, said Sunday. "After nearly a century of attempts and close to two years of effort, we have finally passed meaningful health care reform. "Tonight , a parent i n Glasgow can sleep well knowing insurance companies won't be able to deny their child coverage, or rip it away when they need it most," Baucus added. "Tonight, a senior in Sidney can sleep well knowing that soon they won't have to choose between food or prescription drugs. Tonight, a small business owner in Hamilton can sleep well knowing that providing well deserved benefits for hardworking employees won't decimate their bottom line. It is a new day in America." Tester also issued a statement Sunday. " I j o i n t h o u s a n d s o f Montanans and millions of Americans in thanking the House for rounding the final curve and sending this longoverdue legislation to the home stretch," he said. "Today's vote was a bold 'yes' to reforming our broken health insurance system, controlling health care costs and making Medicare stronger — all while cutting the national deficit by more than a trillion dollars," he added. "Montana families, small businesses and most importantly, our kids and grandkids, can't afford Congress doing nothing. Doing nothing to fix health insurance and control costs has broken too many families."


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