By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau
Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, said he has not decided how he'll vote on a health care bill likely to come before the House of Representatives in the next three weeks.
``I won't know until I see what kind of guarantees there are that this is going to be a good bill,'' he said.
In November, Arcuri voted "yes" as House Democrats passed a comprehensive health-insurance reform bill that included a public option _ a government-sponsored insurance plan to compete with corporate insurers.
In December, when the Senate passed its version of health-insurance reform, Arcuri was critical of the measure, which had no public option and would have taxed employee health care plans.
Now, both chambers may have another chance at reform. President Barack Obama has asked the House to tentatively accept the Senate bill, with the understanding it will be amended later. Then the Senate will adopt changes under budget reconciliation rules that could prevent a Republican filibuster.
The end run around a filibuster has become more likely because Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority weeks ago as Republican Scott Brown won a special Senate election in Massachusetts. While a simple majority will pass most bills, 60 are required to stop a filibuster, and the Democratic caucus numbers 59.
``Resorting to budget reconciliation is the legislative equivalent of breaking out the heavy artillery in a pitched battle,'' National Public Radio reports on its website. ``Since the early 1980s, it has been used 19 times, primarily to steer controversial fiscal and budgetary policies through the Senate, including former President Bill Clinton's fiscal 1994 deficit reduction and tax package and President George W. Bush's major tax cuts.'' This is the path Obama has asked the House and Senate to take _ a way to send a health insurance reform bill to his desk this spring.
Arcuri said he understands the stakes, but will not commit to approving a bill in advance.
``The devil is in the details,'' he said. ``Right now, the Senate bill would cost New York about an extra $1 billion and that's not just the state, but the localities. So think of Otsego, Oneida and other counties having to pay more for Medicaid, something they really can't afford.''
Other big states also would pay more under the Senate plan, which would enroll more people in Medicaid without sufficient reimbursement, he said. But the Obama administration and congressional leaders are working on changes to the Senate bill, and the specifics of the compromise plan are not yet known.
``For me, it all depends on how its going to affect my constituents. If it's real reform, I want it because we need it,'' he said. ``But I'm not going to vote for a bill just to say I voted for it.
``I'm not crazy about the (reconciliation) process we're using,'' he continued, "but the filibuster used to be reserved for extreme circumstances, and that's not the case anymore.''
Arcuri is being challenged by Republican Richard Hanna of Barneveld, who this week accused him of equivocating on health care, saying by e-mail to The Daily Star. ``This isn't leadership, but rather pandering, politics and opportunism. I am confident the voters will not be fooled Mr. Arcuri's election year re-branding but see this as politics of the worst kind.''
Also vying for the Republican nomination is former U.S. Marine E. Logan Bell of Lansing, a member of the Constitution Party, who said Thursday he opposes the Obama health care plan and could not vote for Arcuri or Hanna because they don't represent his conservative values.
GOP leaders have said Hanna is a shoo-in for the nomination.
On Thursday, Tory Mazzola of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the GOP is about to launch a robo-call campaign in the 24th Congressional District, asking voters to call Arcuri and persuade him not to vote for health care reform.
``The American people, and particularly people in central New York, are opposed to government-run health care,'' Mazzola said.
Arcuri dismissed the Republican calls as ``playing politics with health care.
"It's outrageous, but I can't say I'm surprised," Arcuri continued. "Unfortunately in Washington, they've become the party of no.'''