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Bright: ‘A firm no’ on health care

While other Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives – and especially freshmen Democrats – are being heavily pressured to vote for President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill this weekend, U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Montgomery) says “not so much.”

“I’ve been a firm no for quite some time, and people know that,” Bright told The Star-News Thursday. “They know I’m firm in my principles and won’t be persuaded to change my vote. The people who are getting their ‘arms twisted’ are the ones who are genuinely undecided and hearing arguments from all sides. That’s pretty typical for any important vote.”

Obama’s health care reform bills will likely come to a vote in the House on Sunday, Bright said. The president cancelled a scheduled trip to Asia to lobby for health care reform this week, and administration officials have been saying they have the votes to get the bills passed.

The legislation wasn’t even available for members of Congress to review until yesterday afternoon.

“The bill was posted around 2 p.m. eastern today (Thursday),” Bright said. “The bill must now sit for 72 hours before we can consider it. Seventy-two hours is a standard on which members of both parties agree, and in fact I’ve co-sponsored legislation to require all legislation to be available via the Internet for at least 72 hours before a vote. As such, it looks like the vote will be on Sunday.”

The health care portions of the bill would affect nearly every American and remake one-sixth of the national economy. (See related story, “Dems sweeten bill, set showdown”).

Beginning in 2014, most Americans would be required for the first time to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Millions of families with incomes up to $88,000 a year would receive government help to defray their costs. Large businesses would face fines if they did not offer good-quality coverage to their workers.

Earlier this week, Bright sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to not move forward with the current health care reform proposals.

“From my perspective, this legislation is too costly and risky, especially in an economy still struggling to recover from a severe recession,” Bright told Pelosi. “ Moreover, numerous opinion polls have shown the American people are firmly opposed to the current proposals. While these polls should be taken in context, they do provide a clear indication of where the majority of Americans stand on the health care reform bills pending before Congress.”

He also told the House Speaker that his constituents opposed the legislation.

“When I travel across my south Alabama district, my constituents consistently express deep concern about the direction this Congress has taken in regards to health care,” he wrote. “ Many of them want to see health care reform and know the status quo is unsustainable. However, they rightfully have concerns about the adverse long-term effects on not only our health care system, but our economy as a whole.”

Despite having openly opposed the plan for months, Bright said Thursday he’s still getting lots of calls from constituents about health care.

“Most are opposed – probably 90 percent,” he said. “In fact, my staff was featured on ABC News on Monday night answering these calls.”

Despite the administration’s and Pelosi’s repeated assurances to national news media that the legislation will be passed this week, Bright wasn’t convinced on Thursday.

“I don’t think that anyone really knows now,” Bright said. “If anything, they’re just trying to project confidence about the bill’s passage, whether they really think it will pass or not. At this point, they still have a ways to go and many issues to work out before they get 216 yes votes.”

Bright said he favors starting over with the health care reform process. He has outlined what he would include in reform on his Congressional Web site, including:

Allowing competition across state lines

Incentives for primary care physicians to address a shortage of doctors.

Medical liability reform

He also said the plan should uphold current abortion restrictions.