September 8th, 2009
02:53 PM ET
5 years ago

A tale of two districts

Altmire held one town hall with more than 1,000 attendees, as well as three telephone town halls, according to his office.
Altmire held one town hall with more than 1,000 attendees, as well as three telephone town halls, according to his office.

(CNN) – Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Joe Sestak, both second-term congressmen who marched in Monday's Allegheny County Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh, represent districts on opposite ends of the state. Also miles apart: their views on the best way to approach health care reform.

Hours away from Washington, the fight over the nation's health care system - and questions over what President Obama should say this week - took center stage at the Monday parade in Pittsburgh. Some union members marched with signs calling for health care reform. Others carried signs pushing a government-run system.

Altmire, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, is emphasizing cost containment and does not want to see any tax increases to help pay for reform - a concern that led to his vote against the Democratic bill in the Health, Education and Labor committee.

"I don't want to do that on the tax side. I don't want to have to raise taxes to do health care reform. If the Senate sends us a bill with that, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it," Altmire tells CNN. He says he might consider supporting a proposed government insurance plan - a so-called "public option" - as long as it doesn't unfairly undercut private insurance companies.


For Sestak, the public option is a priority: Any major reform, he says, must include a strong insurance plan sponsored by the government.

"Unless we have the public option as a fair competitor, we won't begin to bring down the costs of our premimums and our deductibles. It is absolutely a necessity for our economy," Sestak says.

Sestak - who is challenging Republican-turned Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter for their party's 2010 Senate nomination - opposes any "trigger" mechanism that would delay enactment of a government plan depending until several years down the road depending on whether insurance companies bring down their costs, Altmire is open to that idea.

August may have marked the congressional recess, but it was anything but a break for the two congressmen.

Altmire held one town hall with more than 1,000 attendees, as well as three telephone town halls, according to his office.

"I would not say anything that happened shocked or surprised me," he says. "I know there is a lot of concern out there about the role of government in general and certainly health care which is the most personal of issues. People are going to have a concern - especially those who have insurance now. 'How is this going to impact me?' And that is what I heard.

"Now we have 435 members returning to Washington. We have all had a similar experience in our districts, and and we have to incorporate the views of the American people into the health care bill," Altmire says.

Sestak hosted over 400 people Friday night at his ninth town hall since August. As one audience member shouted there are "multiple interpretations of this horrific government takeover," the congressman tried to reassure them. The current Democratic bill, with a public insurance plan, is key, he said. "It insures that if you have health care today you should be for this bill because you may not be able to afford it tomorrow unless we discipline the costs," he told the crowd in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

While Sestak says this is the time to push through comprehensive reform, Altmire leaves the door open to supporting a less ambitious bill that would incorporate more modest changes. Those would include popular measures such as provisions banning insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, forbidding them from dropping sick persons, and helping small businesses pool their employees to help ensure they can purchase affordable coverage.

One thing both men agree on: For a bill to get through Congress, they say, the president must be fully engaged.

"We need that from him," Sestak says. "I would have liked to have seen him earlier into the fray."

Altmire concurred. "The president has to lay out for the American people what his goals are for health care reform - what he is willing to compromise on and what his lines in the sand are," he says.


Filed under: Joe Sestak
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Peoples Voice

    Don't call yourself a Democrat, blue dog or not. You are nothing but a republican who is trying to destroy this country in the name of profit.

    There is not enough lobbyist money to make you human.

    September 8, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. single mom

    If the government wants the cost of insurance to come down, then two things need to happen – tort reform and open up the state borders so companies can compete against each other. Keep the government out of it.

    September 8, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. Jefe

    Here's what I think we need to do about healthcare financing reform (it really has nothing to do with healthcare – just how to pay for it).

    1) Keep Medicare and Medicaid for those who are too poor to pay for their own.

    2) Make insurance premiums 100% deductible.

    3) Open competition in the private, for-profit health insurance industry (cross state lines, etc.). Many nations with "national healthcare" systems have twice as many private insurance companies as we do.

    4) Offer a public option. A non-profit, but NO-COST insurance program, to compete with existing healthcare insurance corporations. Make the premiums whatever they should be, and settle, once and for all, whether government can run a health insurance program more efficiently than the private sector – I'm betting they can in this case.

    September 8, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. justasking

    Remember when Bush put a cap on medical malpractice lawsuits on obstetricians/gynecologists? Why did he stop there? (1) Why didn’t he include neurosurgeons/neurologists, orthopedists and other specialty groups that have a high incidence of pending medical malpractice suits against them? (2) Wouldn’t lowering the verdict amounts a plaintiff can get on all of the above eventually lower the overall cost for a medical professional’s malpractice insurance? (3) Wouldn’t lowering the cost of malpractice insurance mean more joining the ranks of medical professionals? (4) Wouldn’t more medical professionals mean more competition between health insurance (maybe medical professionals would only sign up with the better health insurers) thus lowering the costs of health insurance? If yes to all of the above, than it seems to me that instituting (1) above would be tremendously more cost-effective than going into socialized medicine and we would really be saving that near trillion dollars Obama wants to spend that we don’t have.

    September 8, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. gl, From Pittsburgh

    I was there the parade marching and I am all for a Pubic Opition.

    September 8, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    Translation: "I'm more concerned with pleasing my unusually-large-%-for-a-Democrat conservative constituency than I am with doing what the facts and empirical evidence show is in their best interests. They've chosen to gobble up the GOP's lies, and instead of fighting that and educating them, or if they prove unwilling to hear the facts and evidence and won't listen to reason, instead shouting over me, by voting my conscience...I will simply pander to their fear so I can squeeze another term out of it."

    Newsflash: The only people in real danger from the GOP's misinfromation campaigns are the Blue Dogs, which is why they're being scared into capitulating to it. They'er too selfish to put country first and do what they know is right and are instead being cowed by large groups of purposefully misinformed and angry idiots.

    Good job, you wuss.

    September 8, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  7. Tom Bachman

    Sestak better run away from Obama...or he'll get bounced by Benedict Arnold Specter.
    Altmire's my Congressman....much more reasoned approach. But he's vulnerable on this issue, too.
    With voter turnouts due to change as Obama backpedals into lame duck status.....listening to constituents is the difference-maker.

    September 8, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  8. sharon

    Go Sestak.

    September 8, 2009 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  9. mb-texas

    Democrats get your act together and pass a healthcare bill.
    if the Republicans want to ride along if not just stay parked
    in the no zone.Democrats you can get it done stop fighting among
    each other if you lose this chance for Americans people you will
    lose in 2010.Let your egos get behind and forget your ego and pass a bill.

    September 8, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  10. Deuce

    Losing their heads...

    September 8, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  11. Blue Dogs (gotta love em)

    Refreshing to be reminded that there are reasonable voices within both parties. The left is distorting the views of the Democratic party so much, that many independents are going over to the Republican party as the lesser of two evils. Conservative views, morals, patriotism and
    common sense appeal to the best of Americans. We really are the
    majority in this Country, and now that are voices are being heard.. it is
    a great feeling. United we Stand.

    September 8, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  12. Vigla

    The public option is imperitive! Without it, you might as well not do anything. I don't want profits to determine whether I get covered or not.

    September 8, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  13. cgillette369

    the cost overruns will be incredibly high.

    September 8, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  14. Deborah Black

    Yeah, be sure to stand up for the poor put upon Insurance Companies. They only made record profits every year for the past decade while they drove our healthcare costs through the roof.

    September 8, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  15. Ron

    WE can reduce our tax burden even more by eliminating the congressional health care plan and other perks WE provide to congress. If WE can't take of each other, why should WE take care of congressmen/women who make at least $165K a year and enjoy a GREAT retirement package? Let them buy their own darn health/dental/vision insurance like the rest of us! How stupid do they sound to say "no public health care" when they enjoy public health care? OR, maybe the better question is how stupid WE are to let them get away with it?

    "Blue Dog" democrat is becoming a nasty couple of words with this democrat! They can start planning to compete against republicans in the next set of primaries for all I care – cause I'm not voting for them!!

    September 8, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |