WASHINGTON — As the debate over President Barack Obama’s push for reform of the health care and insurance industry rolls on, Maine’s congressional delegation finds itself in the eye of the storm.
Among those wielding some influence in the debate are Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of three Republicans in the Senate’s so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group on the Finance Committee hammering out details of the committee’s version of the bill.
Now members of the Maine delegation are eagerly awaiting Wednesday evening, when Obama will address a joint session of Congress for the second time of his presidency.
This speech marks the first non-State of the Union, nonintroductory address to a joint session since President George W. Bush spoke to Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, about the war on terror.
Michaud has not yet confirmed a vote either way on the president’s reform efforts and said in a statement that Obama “needs to provide clear direction and be open and direct with the American people.”
“We must do what we can to make sure that every American has access to affordable health care,” said Michaud, whose Blue Dog Democrats have urged fiscal accountability with any health care reform efforts. “At the same time, we must provide security and stability to those who are already insured.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said that she expects Obama to be “quite forceful and bold” in his speech and that he “understands the urgency and importance of moving Congress forward.”
“More than anything else,” Pingree said, “people want to see progress and move forward” with health care reform. People in Maine “want to believe that the president is working as hard [on reform] as the delegation in Maine.”
On the issue of bipartisanship, a buzzword from the beginning of health care reform’s current life, Pingree was lukewarm, saying it would be “great,” but that “allowing that to stand in the way of passing a bill and moving forward on the issue would be a tragic mistake.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has been vocal with her concerns about the reform package’s price tag, said in a statement that she is “eager” to hear what Obama has to say Wednesday night and hopes “that he will focus on reducing the cost of health care.”
Collins said that if the cost of the reform package were not reduced — it will cost an estimated $900 billion over the next decade as it stands — she would not vote for the bill, calling it “simply unaffordable.”
Snowe, who spent her first day back from Congress’ August recess on a conference call with fellow Gang of Six senators picking through the version of the reform bill Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus outlined Sunday, said the president’s address was both “unexpected” and “critically important.”
“It’s important to hear his position on specific issues,” Snowe said. She said she hopes to hear Obama explicitly de-emphasize the public health insurance option, which she does not support, and “move on to different approaches.”