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8/25/2009 9:48:00 AM
Feingold: No health care bill before Christmas
Large Mercer crowd opposes reform plans

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold told a large crowd gathered for a listening session in Iron County last week there would likely be no health care bill before the end of the year - and perhaps not at all.

It was an assessment Feingold said he didn't like, but the prospect of no health care legislation brought a burst of applause from a packed house of nearly 150 citizens at the Mercer Community Center.

"Nobody is going to bring a bill before Christmas, and maybe not even then, if this ever happens," Feingold said. "The divisions are so deep. I never seen anything like that."

Feingold reiterated his appraisal a bit later.

"We're headed in the direction of doing absolutely nothing, and I think that's unfortunate," he said when asked about the plight of uninsured Americans.

The Mercer session was spirited but civil - as Feingold himself accurately described it - with most people focused squarely on the health care issue, followed by the deficit as a runner-up concern.

During the discussion, Feingold said he could not declare whether he would support a health reform bill until he has actually seen one, and he said he would then seek out the opinions of Wisconsinites. The Senate recessed in late July with a deadlocked Senate Finance Committee unable to finish work on a bill.

"When I get a proposal I can look at it and decide whether I will support it," he said. "I will let the people of the entire state talk to me."

The senator, a declared proponent of health care reform in principle, nonetheless did not seem too concerned about a potential failure of the Obama administration's effort. He said there was merit to the idea of trying a variety of proposals in various states first.

"Lindsay Graham and I sponsored legislation to have pilot programs in five states," Feingold told the audience. "Maybe we should try some different things. There might be a single-payer state. There might be a co-op state. Let's get some evidence on the ground. This thing right now is not going in the right direction. We might be in a situation where there won't be a bill worth passing."

In 2007, Feingold and Graham, a South Carolina Republican, introduced the State-Based Health Care Reform Act, which would have allowed states to decide how to achieve insurance coverage.

The legislation would have established five-year pilot programs that would have mandated only minimum baseline requirements. States could have used health savings accounts, single payer systems, expansion of current programs, or could have adopted new ideas in their efforts to cover the uninsured.

The senator said again last week he did not think a "one-size-fits-all" approach would work as well as giving states program flexibility.

Abortion, fairness

At the listening session, Feingold did say allay some expressed concern about federally-funded abortions being included as part of a health-care reform package. An amendment removed that provision from the House version of the bill, he said, and a Senate bill won't reintroduce it.

"There's no way we're changing this to offer public funding of abortions," Feingold said. "Nobody wants to open up that issue in the middle of this. That's one thing you won't have to worry about."

One audience member pointed to the generous health benefits federal lawmakers enjoy and wondered if Feingold would pledge to take the same health insurance that Congress "will make the rest of us take."

"I will support a law that will bring us under it," he said. "If I am eligible, I will join it. If I can be part of the system, I will be."

However, he observed, that might not be possible if a government plan is means-tested because his income would no doubt disqualify him.

Finally, Feingold repudiated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's remarks calling vocal critics of health care reform at town hall meetings "evil mongers."

Feingold called Reid's remarks unfortunate and inappropriate.

"I've been listening to the people for 16 years, and I have never impugned their motives," the senator said.

Though the vast majority of the crowd opposed the administration's health care effort, particularly a public, or government, health insurance plan that would compete with private insurers - and showed it with frequent bursts of loud applause - some in the room supported some type of reform, including a government option.

They too drew some hand claps, but much fewer. Proponents of reform repeatedly cited the 40-plus million Americans who do not have health insurance.

One citizen summed up the majority's mood, however.

"This issue has definitely awakened a sleeping giant," the man said. "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."


The nation's growing deficit was a major topic, too, and Feingold repeatedly cited his credentials as a balanced-budget type of senator.

"I ran for the U.S. Senate on a platform to balance the budget," he said. "In 1992, we had one of the largest deficits in history and we balanced the budget. I led the charge in 1992 to get rid of the federal deficit, and when Bill Clinton left office, there was no federal deficit."

Feingold said he supported the stimulus package earlier this year because of the recession, but he said he would not guarantee his vote for a second stimulus if one was proposed.

"This was an emergency situation to get the economy going," Feingold said. "And I have told the administration not to count on me for another stimulus package. You can't just keep doing this because it creates hyperinflation."

Feingold also said he has not been a supporter of so-called cap-and-trade proposals, and he compared the issue to global warming, at least with respect to gaining cooperation from other nations.

"You know, the other countries won't play ball," he said of his attempts to get the international community to work together on global warming. "Maybe we should impose tariffs. We should put some pressure on them. They cannot be given a free pass, and we cannot do cap-and-trade alone."

Feingold said his lack of support for cap-and-trade and his votes to cut spending have sometimes put him at odds with the Obama administration.

"There's a survey that shows that I am the Democrat who has least voted with President Obama," he said.

Actually, according to CQ Politics, Feingold and Arlen Specter, who recently switched to the Democratic Party from the GOP, are the two least likely Democrats in the U.S. Senate to vote with the president, with both having supported Obama 86 percent of the time. By contrast, Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl has voted with the president 97 percent of the time.

On another issue, Feingold said he opposed legislation to require gun registration, and he said such legislation would die a quick death in the Senate.

"I have opposed gun registration all my life, and I will continue to oppose it," he said. "We've got the votes in the Senate to kill that."

Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009
Article comment by: Kim Simac

Once again our Senator attempts to align himself in the middle of the road. What he declares as his moderate views are far different then the actual face he portrays in DC. Don't try to ride the center Senator, we are tired of it and we don't believe anything, any of you are saying anymore. A true leader doesn't ride both sides of the fence and remember actions speak louder then words. Look at your voting record.

Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Article comment by: Andrew Willems

Mr. Feingold appears set to run for the Republican primary in 2010. Perhaps he has read about the Republican candidate for US Senator Dave Westlake! Mr. Feingold has very conservative views on these latest public issues and I wonder why he is distancing himself from Democrats? He still sides with President Obama 86% of the time, I think that is too much and if the good citizens of Wisconsin continue to raise their voices, Mr. Feingold may remove himself further from President Obama's policies.

Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Article comment by: Rick

Short, sweet and to the point. No government bill of any kind is an acceptable alternative to US citizens.

We don't want the government to get their foot in the door in any capacity where they can expand their power down the road.

Reform the existing system as necessary but no government sponsored health care is nor will be acceptable to us!

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Hector

With democrats like Feingold who needs Republicans to kill the health care bill.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: r friedman

Read this

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Bobsled

I'm all for trying a single payer state as long as it's not a red state!

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Bobby J. Cole

It does not bother Senator Finegold whether we pas a bill or not because he has found his gold.
There are old seniors because they have a few hundred in the bank and medicare and a supplement so let them die than change my health insurance.

I am ashamed to share the same poluted air with people like senaor good gold, I postulate that he receives some of that fine gold he possesses from insurance companies and big drug pushing companies.

I will not mention the suffering many people are going through to make a few rich. and the sorrowful lot at that meeting you described woul be glad to see them die and decrease the surface poulation.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: James Harris

Feingold is now officially pandering to misinformed people. To pretend that none of these astroturf protestors are spreading falsehoods is the biggest falsehood of all. There is a campaign of disinformation not seen since Republicans claimed Al Smith was going to dig a tunnel from the White House to the Vatican.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Robert Chaviano

How many of these people at the event who applauded the idea of no health care reform were seniors who enjoy full medical coverage through Medicare? Don't they realize that this is a govt. sponsored program? Or, even worse, do they know this but do not care. They got theirs, so who cares about anyone else. "The Greatest Generation", indeed.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Kerry Thomas

Congratulations! This story was featured front and center on the DRUDGE Report, and Rush Limbaugh read it in the first 15 minutes of his radio show on Tuesday.

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Article comment by: Arcy

Not having a socialized government-run obama-care system before Christmas is a GREAT Christmas present to the millions of Americans who are tire of over-spending by our government!!! Merry Christmas everyone!!!!

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