At state fair, Minnesotans and their senators talk health careby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Falcon Heights, Minn. — Since the state fair gates opened a week and a half ago, Minnesotans have been taking about health care with politicians, but it's in the U.S. Senate where most expect the real battle will be fought.
On Wednesday, President Obama will address a join session of Congress, aiming to breathe life back into the reform effort.
Still, polls show many Americans are leery of the president's proposals. Staffers for Minnesota Democratic Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar say health care reform has been the number one issue on the minds of constituents at this year's fair.
Joy Jurewicz stopped by Sen. Klobuchar's booth to ask about future town hall health care forums. Jurewicz favors a public option and would like to know more about where the people who represent her in Washington stand. She said Democrats have been concentrating on playing defense, possibly at the expense of spelling out exactly what they want to do.
"The opposition or the other side has been giving a lot of false information out," she said. "I know that [Democrats are] doing their best to kind of control that or get the right information out to people."
The president's aides say Obama will address health care reform to the joint session of Congress with "force and clarity." That's something fairgoer George Bergquist says has been sorely missing.
Bergquist, who also wants a public option, can't understand why Democrats he voted for are taking what he views as a disorganized approach that doesn't appear to be well thought out -- especially given the challenges of taking on health care and past defeats.
The Democrats' approach is why Bergquist thinks much of the debate has focused on dispelling rumors, like the one about "death panels."
"I think that the lack of clarity about what the principles are that they want to have in the bill has lead to a lot of very specious issues being presented that have really taken the health care debate down some very unproductive avenues," he said.
Visitors to Franken's fair booth can fill out a one-page form asking what they think should be done about health care.
Franken's office says the vast majority of responses call for big changes, including a government-run health insurance program that would compete with conventional providers.
But it's not only supporters of a health care overhaul that sounding off at the fair and evidenced by a brief episode at the Franken booth.
"What are the three words? No public option!" a couple of fairgoers forcefully said.
Sen. Franken said he fully supports including such a public option in health care legislation.
"We need to do this now," Sen. Franken said. "I think that the sooner we do it the better. Again what we have now is unsustainable. I think President Obama was right that all of this needs to be done. We can't just do it piecemeal and that if we don't reform out heath care system we're going to have unsustainable increases in cost."
Sen. Klobuchar is taking somewhat of a different tack. She talks about a public option as something to work toward, but not necessarily demand right now.
"It could and it would be a very good goal to have that happen," she said. "I think you could still have improvements in a system where you start expanding...Maybe you cover all kids. You also expand to make it easier for small business and the self employed. It's a more incremental approach but I also think it's something worth looking at."
Such an incremental approach is what Sen. Klobuchar has been calling for all along, from her 2006 campaign through her time in the Senate. Sen. Franken, who's been an outspoken supporter of universal health care and a public option, won't say whether he would vote against a plan that doesn't to go that far.
Back out at the fair, Bergquist said if Democrats abandon core principles just to get a deal, they will not get the type of reform their supporters have been demanding. He said a half-solution would cost some of the officials he helped elect, his future support.
"The time will come when there will be an accounting for whether or not they've held to the principles on which they ran," he said.
- Morning Edition, 09/07/2009, 7:25 a.m.