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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bob Etheridge Voting "Yes" For Health Care Reform Bill

Etheridge Will Vote In Favor Of Health Care Insurance Reform Bill

Forces for and against the health insurance bill are ending the week with a whirl of activity before the expected Sunday vote in the U.S. House vote.

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a moderate Democrat who represents a handful of mostly rural counties outside Raleigh, announced tonight that he will vote in favor of the controversial bill. He had voted “yes” in November.

Just after making his decision around 6 p.m., Etheridge strode across the House floor during a vote to inform House leadership. First, he told House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, then House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

In an interview tonight, Etheridge said he expected all along to wait until he got the numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and had the chance to read the bill.

“It isn’t perfect,” he said. “But it’s better than where we are.”

He likes that it lowers the deficit both short-term and long-term, that it does away with denials for pre-existing conditions, and that it is paid for.

“The bill isn’t perfect,” Etheridge said. “But I’ve concluded that No. 1, it’ll save lives. And No. 2, the current system needs fixing. A lot of folks are hurting.”

Etheridge signaled his views Wednesday, during a speech on the House floor in which he read letters from struggling constituents and said that health reform is needed.

Today, he said he had heard from “thousands and thousands” of people, through e-mail, phone calls and letters.

“Good Lord, we’ve had enough telephone calls, e-mails, written letters,” he said.

He took issue with some of the opponents of health reform, saying, “Some folks are trying to scare people. But you cannot allow that to be the final factor.”

In an earlier interview, he had criticized a recent ad by Americans for Prosperity, which was labeled a “Pants on Fire” mistruth by PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times.

Americans for Prosperity North Carolina held a rally outside Etheridge’s Raleigh office Tuesday and has organized a bus trip to Washington Saturday for a rally and visits to lawmakers’ offices.

The group had planned to take six buses to Washington, but by this afternoon had added two more. Its Raleigh office phone was busy for much of the day with people calling for seats.

“We could have filled up every school bus in Wake County with people,” said Dallas Woodhouse, director of Americans for Prosperity North Carolina. “I have never seen passions as stirred up and people wanting to do something about it.”

Those on the buses plan to visit Etheridge and his Democratic colleagues Heath Shuler of Waynesville, Larry Kissell of Biscoe and Mike McIntyre of Lumberton, Woodhouse said.

“To some people it’s just political. I understand that,” Etheridge said. “You’ve got some very strong, passionate views on both sides of the issue.”

In fact, Organizing for America, a group that supports President Barack Obama’s agenda, marched to Etheridge’s office in downtown Raleigh earlier today to deliver 10,000 stories of North Carolinians relating their problems paying medical bills. Letters came from people whose high bills forced them into bankruptcy, people with medical conditions who could not buy insurance, and others, said Lindsay Siler, state director of Organizing for America.

Etheridge also read letters from constituents on the floor of the U.S. House earlier this week, and Siler said the group wanted him to see more.

“We wanted to make sure he knows that we had his back today,” Siler said.

Phones continued to ring at congressional offices across Capitol Hill today. Some overloaded phones rang busy or sent callers into voice mail, a troubling development in offices that pride themselves on answering every constituent call in person.

“Oh my goodness; we’re literally getting thousands of phone calls, e-mails, faxes and letters,” McIntyre said. “We’re hearing from all over the country, but from our district, it’s overwhelmingly opposed.”

McIntyre plans to vote against the health reform bill, he said, because he thinks it doesn’t do enough to contain costs.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller’s Web site was largely inoperable today, making it impossible for visitors to get beyond the home page. The Raleigh Democrat’s spokeswoman, LuAnn Canipe, said the problems were likely because of so many people trying to use it and his staff trying to keep it updated. Miller announced Friday he will vote for the bill.

Meanwhile, polls show widely varying results on health bill questions.

An Elon University Poll conducted March 14-17 found that 78 percent of North Carolinians surveyed said the nation’s health care system needed reform, while 15 percent said it is fine the way it is. The poll surveyed 579 residents and had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

A Civitas Institute poll of 600 likely voters resulted in 50 percent saying they were opposed to the current proposal, with 39 percent saying they supported it. The poll was conducted March 16-18 and had a 4 percent margin of error of 4 percentage points.

And a poll of voters in Etheridge’s district by Public Policy Polling showed that 53 percent were opposed and 37 percent in support of the health bill.

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, Youtube, Google Maps

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