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Kristen Daum, Published November 13 2009

Senators say cutting costs comes first

Senate debate on health care reform could begin as early as next week, and Minnesota and North Dakota’s senators have similar but varied ideas about what should be included in the final legislation.

Although the House passed its health care reform bill last weekend, that action has minimal impact on senators’ decisions since the Senate will debate its own bill, North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad said.

But a unified Senate bill hasn’t been released yet, as Senate leaders are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to issue its analysis of a bill drafted out of two bills previously approved by separate Senate committees.

The CBO report, which will help reflect the affordability and feasibility of the bill, is expected to be released today to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Conrad said.

Without a unified bill on the Senate floor, it’s too early for Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and North Dakota Sens. Conrad and Byron Dorgan to say how they’d vote on the legislation.

But all four Democrats said this week that they’d consider a public option proposal as long as it didn’t disadvantage the rural health care systems of their two states.

Each senator also said there are key issues they find important – namely improving affordability of insurance and access to care. But the preferred way to meet those goals differs among the senators.

As they gear up for the turn to debate, craft and eventually vote on health care reform, here’s a look at where each Minnesota and North Dakota senator stands:

Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

“The most important thing is that we get this right, not that we meet an artificial timeline.”

Priorities for reform:

Deal-breakers:

Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

“If at the end of the day, this legislation does not effectively put the brakes on escalating costs, it will be a failure. I’m not interested in voting for something that’s a failure.”

Priorities for reform:

Deal-breakers:

Al Franken, D-Minn.

“People have to see this as both health insurance reform and then reform of the health care system.”

Priorities for reform:

Deal-breakers:

Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

“I’ve been positive on the public option as long as it goes hand-in-hand with cost control. It would expand the problem if you didn’t do both.”

Priorities for reform:

Deal-breakers:


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541