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Don Davis, Published August 05 2009

Lawmakers come home to discuss health care

ST. PAUL – August is the time when children try to forget they are about to head back to classes, families rush to fit in last-minute vacations and members of Congress, this year at least, think about health care.

Most members of the Minnesota congressional delegation plan to spend part of their month-long break talking to constituents about proposed health care reform legislation.

For example, Sen. Al Franken, who sits on a committee that deals with health care, will tour the Mayo Clinic. Rep. James Oberstar plans late-August meetings with health care providers, advocates for the uninsured, labor unions and employers about the issue. Rep. Collin Peterson plans a trio of health meetings.

“It is kind of driven by what people are talking about on talk radio, cable news shows and so forth,” Peterson said.

Congressional leaders had promised to pass a health care reform bill before their August recess, pressed by President Barack Obama, but it proved too complicated a task, given economic and other issues in Washington.

In a pre-break White House meeting Tuesday, Obama urged 57 Democratic senators to stick with him on health care legislation.

“We are not really ready to negotiate with ourselves,” Franken said Obama told the group.

Although Obama praised Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is pushing for a change in the Obama plan, the president did not endorse any change. Conrad wants health care reform to include a cooperative-type insurance plan instead of one run by the federal government.

For now, at least, Franken is sticking with Obama, although he admitted that Minnesota has had lots of success with cooperatives, ranging from those dealing with ethanol to electricity to sugar beets.

Peterson likes the concept.

“That could be where we end up, with a Conrad co-op idea as an alternative to the so-called public plan,” Peterson said.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Obama left the door open to changes, saying the health care plan is a work in progress.

Klobuchar said she is happy to have the August recess to look at the proposal because it needs work to keep costs down.

“I don’t mind that it is taking awhile,” she said. “We have to get it right.”

August traditionally is the time when federal lawmakers return home to take the temperature of their constituents on federal issues. The House recessed Friday; the Senate plans to work this week before taking its break.

While lawmakers do take time off during August, their official schedules still will be busy.

Take Franken, a Democrat in office slightly more than a month.

“He’ll be traveling to just about every corner of the state meeting community leaders and city officials about local economic issues and new projects in Minnesota,” said Franken spokeswoman Jess McIntosh. “He’s hosting a couple of roundtables to hear from key constituencies on the health care reform debate, meeting with leaders in the agriculture community, touring the Mayo Clinic and other Minnesota businesses and institutions, and, of course, the State Fair.”

That is typical of what other offices reported.

Rep. Eric Paulsen, an Eden Prairie Republican, plans his 10th telephone conference forum of the year. He also will hold meetings with police, health officials, educators, senior citizens and businesses this month.

Klobuchar plans to visit 20 counties, listening to Minnesotans on any subject, but also will hold some specific meetings such as on agriculture programs.


Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com