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Martha Coakley and the three other Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate traded barbs Monday after Coakley said she would have voted against a major health care reform bill because it contained an anti-abortion amendment.
Rep. Michael Capuano, who supported the bill, stopped short of labeling Coakley naive, but said: "I think it shows either that or the demand for perfection. In that case, she will never be able to vote for a single bill in the U.S. Senate, because there's never a perfect bill."
City Year co-founder Alan Khazei added later: "If the House Democrats listened to Martha Coakley, our best chance for universal health care in 62 years would now be dead."
Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca, the fourth Democrat battling to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said in a statement that he opposed the amendment, but "casting a no vote would be to side with (Sen.) Joe Lieberman and the insurance companies that want to kill health care reform."
The attorney general was asked Monday during an interview on WTKK-FM whether she would have voted for the bill, which passed the House late Saturday and advanced President Barack Obama's top domestic agenda item. "I believe that I would not," she replied.
Coakley added: "Health care reform was to provide more coverage for people. ... I think that, moving forward, a health care reform bill that takes steps backward on women's constitutional right to choose is a mistake."
Kennedy died Aug. 25 of brain cancer. Competing for the Republican nomination are state Sen. Scott Brown of Wrentham and Duxbury attorney Jack E. Robinson. The party primaries are Dec. 8. The special election is Jan. 19.
The so-called Stupak-Pitts Amendment prohibits abortion coverage for any health insurance product subsidized in any way by the federal government. The amendment's prospects in the Senate, which is now taking up the broader bill, are uncertain.
Capuano is the only federal legislator running, and while he ultimately voted in favor of the bill, he told the AP he will reconsider all of its facets when it comes up for a final House vote. That may happen before the end of the year.
"That is a classic example of the differences between us in this race: I understand how to make real serious improvements in the issues that are important to me, in this case, health care," Capuano said. "I understand the process doesn't stop on one vote."
He noted the bill won approval of all 10 members of the Massachusetts House delegation, as well as every member of the chamber who identifies himself as an abortion-rights supporter.
Khazei said that if final bill includes the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, he would "reluctantly" vote for it to gain universal health care. "I will then work day and night with pro-choice groups and citizen activists to change that legislation and elect members of Congress who will preserve a woman's right to choose no matter their income level," he said in his statement.
Brown's staff said he would have supported the amendment but opposed the bill because it would raise taxes.
The comments made by Coakley and Capuano underscored major campaign themes.
Coakley is the state's first female attorney general and is seeking to become its first female U.S. senator. She has said she is not trying to take advantage of being the only woman in the race, but also has sought the endorsement of the pro-woman, pro-abortion rights EMILY's List, held high-profile events with women supporters and aired a television ad overwhelmingly populated with women.
Capuano, a six-term congressman, has cast himself as an experienced Washington player who understands how to pass legislation and to bring home congressional pork.
He has not been shy about targeting his opponents, especially Coakley, saying in one recent debate that he didn't think the state should "send somebody to Washington who has to learn the job from scratch."
Two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Richard Neal of Springfield and Stephen Lynch of Boston, are conservative Democrats and voted in favor of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.
Coakley's director of new media, Maeghan Silverberg, said in a campaign posting on Twitter that she would support a fellow Democrat taking on the veteran congressmen because of their votes.
"This is not an acceptable deal," Silverberg wrote.
This program aired on November 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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