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The Sun Chronicle - Mcgovern, Frank Defend Health Care Reform Plan

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The Sun Chronicle - McGovern, Frank Defend Health Care Reform Plan

U.S. Rep. James McGovern recently got a phone call from a small business owner who was about to hire more workers until he received his health insurance bill.

Rates were being raised 21 percent, and the businessman can no longer afford to hire.

"Health care costs are eating up our economy. We have to fix it," McGovern, D-Worcester, said Monday.

The fix McGovern and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, have in mind is a health reform bill pending in Washington. McGovern said the bill will help control costs and increase competition.

The congressmen said they favor a measure passed by the House, but could accept another one that passed the Senate on a 60-39 vote, if some changes are made to it. Because Republicans wants to filibuster the changes, they would have to be made through a procedure in the Senate known as reconciliation. The process involves passing the changes with a majority vote rather than the filibuster-proof, supermajority of 60 votes that the overall bill received.

That has Republicans fuming.

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, called reconciliation "chicanery." Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called it "an abuse of the system." Others have called it "the nuclear option."

Republicans contend that reconciliation should be used only for budget items and not for major pieces of legislation.

Frank and McGovern said Republicans have nothing to complain about.

They said Republicans have used the process many times in the past, including a $1.8 trillion tax cut under President George W. Bush.

McGovern and Frank said they do not understand why Republicans would be so opposed to the democratic principle of majority rule.

"It's baffling. It's majority rule," Frank said, adding that when he first came to Congress, Republicans used reconciliation to pass some of President Ronald Reagan's domestic agenda.

"It's majority rule. That is the democratic system," McGovern said. "Republican want to filibuster everything so minority opposition can carry the day."

Republicans admit they have used reconciliation in the past, but said the health care bill is a major change that effects one-sixth of the economy. Democrats said reconciliation would not be used to pass the bill. The bill has already been approved by the Senate by 60 votes.

Reconciliation would only be used to make changes to the Senate bill to make it more agreeable to the House and President Barack Obama.

Frank said he wants changes such as repealing special deals for states like Nebraska and Louisiana that were included to win support of senators from those states.

He also wants a provision repealing exemptions from anti-trust laws for health insurance companies.

McGovern said he wants those changes plus the addition of Republican ideas, such as ways of cracking down on Medicare fraud and limiting frivolous medical lawsuits.

Another important change McGovern said he will be seeking is to improve subsidies for families so they can afford health insurance.

McGovern said the reform bill is needed now because insurance companies are jacking up prices at rates the country can no longer afford.

He cited a Goldman Sachs advisory that clients buy health insurance stock because prices are going up and there is little competition.

"If we do nothing, small businesses will get crushed by insurance costs," he said.

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