Fort Mill Times

Spratt defends health care vote amid GOP charges

Calling the health care bill approved by House lawmakers “a long way from perfect,” U.S. Rep. John Spratt defended his vote and vowed to work for more changes.

“I voted to send it to the Senate in the hope that a conference will iron out the differences and make the bill better,” the York Democrat said in a message to supporters.

The vote drew swift condemnation from state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, Spratt’s first and, so far, only challenger in next year’s midterm elections. Mulvaney, a Republican from Indian Land, blasted Spratt for following the wishes of his national party.

“There may have been a time when John Spratt would not have allowed this to happen without a fight,” Mulvaney said. “Those days are apparently gone.”

Spratt: Don’t believe claims

Spratt portrayed the government’s role in health care as different than opponents lead the public to believe.The bill’s main proposal, he said, is to create an exchange that lets uninsured Americans benefit from group rates, competitive pricing and lower administrative costs.

The government would set up the exchanges and oversee their operation, but private insurance companies would run the day-to-day business of underwriting insurance, says Spratt. A newly-created, government-run option would have to follow rules just like private insurance companies, he says.“Though it is not without problems, ‘Affordable Health Care for America’ is not the ‘monstrosity’ Mick Mulvaney portrays,” Spratt said.

Spratt joined 218 Democrats and one Republican in voting for the House bill. The focus now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid said he could introduce legislation by next week.

In an interview Thursday night, Spratt said he plans to push for lower fines against people who don’t comply with the mandate to obtain insurance. He also favors loosening penalties for businesses that don’t provide health coverage for workers. Spratt said he wanted to move the bill along so that more negotiations can take place. “If we didn’t take this opportunity, it wouldn’t come back in the near future,” he said.

Mulvaney calls it the biggest expansion of government in history. He took aim at a provision that would subject Americans to fines - and possible jail time - for failing to buy insurance.

Citing the possibility of five-year jail sentences, Mulvaney said, “Is that really what this country is coming to?”

Spratt voted with the majority for the Stupak amendment, which would bar any public health insurance plan from covering abortion procedures.“The bill didn’t have a chance of passing without it,” said Spratt, adding that in his view, federal law already makes the prohibition under the Hyde amendment, passed in 1976.

The race is on

The dustup represents the first skirmish in what is likely to be a heated contest over the next 12 months. Since formally announcing his bid last week, the sharp-spoken Mulvaney has sought to cast Spratt as a party loyalist beholden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It’s a familiar charge for Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Hissupporters say Republicans have tried to link Spratt to a long line of Democratic bosses, from the late former House speaker Tip O’Neill through Pelosi.The challenge now belongs to Mulvaney, 42, who served a term in the state House and moved to the Senate last year. The Georgetown University-educated developer lives in Indian Land with his wife, Pam, and their 9-year-old triplets.

Spratt, 67, was first elected in 1983 to the Fifth Congressional District, which spans across 12 counties including York, Chester and Lancaster.Amid dissatisfaction with President Obama and Congressional Democrats, some election watchers think Spratt could face a tough re-election next year.On Thursday, David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report downgraded the Fifth District seat from “Likely Democrat” to “Lean Democrat” in his regular briefing.

Wasserman said no Democrat who voted for both “cap and trade” climate legislation and the health care bill represents a more Republican district. President Bush took 57 percent of the vote in 2004.

Four years later, John McCain garnered 53 percent.

“In this political climate, Mulvaney doesn’t need to be a perfect candidate to make the longtime incumbent sweat,” Wasserman said.