Marshall votes no, Bishop yes for health-care reform bill

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, who faced criticism from liberal groups for his misgivings about the so-called public option government-run insurance program, was one of 39 Democrats to vote Saturday evening against the historic health-care overhaul at the top of the Obama administration’s domestic agenda.

Marshall “opposes the bill and believes this is the wrong approach to health-care reform,” Marshall spokesman Doug Moore said after the Saturday night vote.

Since this summer’s often heated town hall debates, Marshall consistently questioned whether such an option would fully address cost overruns and fraud. He prefers directing congressional efforts toward addressing the high cost of health care and steering the nation to a system in which consumers have greater control of their own health-care choices.

Marshall’s opposition puts him in the company of a small club of Democrats, many of them conservative Blue Dogs who hail from conservative Southern and Midwestern districts, freshmen who narrowly won their 2008 elections and those who will likely face tough 2010 re-election bids.

The Blue Dogs “have emerged as the pivotal group on health-care reform because of the fact that the process has worked out in such a way that there’s not much cooperation between party lines,” Randall Strahan, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta said last month.

Like Marshall, fellow Blue Dog Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany had expressed concerns about whether the Obama administration-backed plan provided enough protection for rural hospitals and health-care providers. Other Blue Dogs in places such as Kentucky were not allayed by tweaks to the bill designed to tackle problems such as additional money and incentives to help rural hospitals cover their costs and recruit talented medical professionals.

But by the weekend vote, Bishop was satisfied and voted to support the measure.

“During my town hall meetings on health insurance reform last August, I said that we have a moral obligation to ensure that all Americans receive the health care they need to live healthy and productive lives,” Bishop said. “I have long been concerned about the poor health indicators among my constituents, and this evening I cast a vote that I believe will have a significant impact on improving the lives of southwest Georgians now and into the future.”

Still, both lawmakers spent political capital in taking their respective stances.During the summer, as the discourse about health-care reform grew increasingly heated, both Marshall and Bishop found themselves in an awkward position politically.

Both hail from politically diverse regions with significant numbers of senior citizens, members of the military urban enclaves and those from rural communities.

Bishop co-chaired Obama’s Georgia election campaign. Marshall, who for years was considered the most politically vulnerable Democrat in the House, did not endorse Obama as a candidate. The Senate hopes to act by the end of the year, and if successful, the two Houses would then craft a compromise that would need approval of each chamber.

The House vote came with a warning: Getting enough votes later this year or early in 2010 will not be easy.

And convincing Democrats such as Marshall who says “the American health care’s third-party payment system suffers from Soviet-style inefficiencies” to vote for any future health-care reform compromise may prove difficult.