Democratic Freshmen Shoot High

Posted November 14, 2008 at 1:51pm

Despite Congressional leaders vowing to make the flailing economy and energy reform their top priorities in January, a band of incoming House Democratic freshmen rallied Friday for making health care the first order of business in 2009.

Making quality health care affordable for all “is both an economic issue and a human issue,” Rep.-elect Mark Schauer (D-Mich.) said. “The public clearly … wants us to solve this problem. That’s what I plan to do as a new Member of Congress starting in January.”

“I think this will be the year” for key health care reforms, Rep.-elect Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) said. When viewed in the context of a weak economy, she said, “health care is a job killer in some respects. People can’t afford to buy it, and small businesses can’t afford to provide it.”

Democrats in both chambers, as well as President-elect Barack Obama, already have started to work on health care reform legislation. But most acknowledge it could take months or even years to advance a meaningful plan.

The two Members-elect, along with Reps.-elect Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), said during a conference call that health care was the main reason that they were elected in November.

Grayson said top Democratic leaders visited each of their districts during the campaign and discussed health care as a priority issue. Reflecting on their failure to revise the health care system when Democrats controlled Congress in 1993, Grayson said party leaders are “going to make sure this opportunity is not one that passes.”

But even the incoming Democrats seemed divided on how realistic it is to expect sweeping health care reforms in their first year, particularly given the full agenda awaiting Obama.

“It’s not economic difficulties that will keep us from making bold steps. [They] will mandate the necessity of making bold steps,” Massa said. “I’m going to be very aggressive in representing that this is part of the situation, not as a burden the administration has to deal with.”

But Halvorson warned that lawmakers should “not be afraid of incremental change. Sometimes half a loaf is better than no loaf. Too many people want everything all at once.”