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Pagliuca Tries To Capitalize On Apparent Health Care Rift04:11

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Stephen Pagliuca says unequivocal support for health care reform should be a prerequisite for any Democrat aspiring to fill the seat held by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

"I regret that two of my opponents in this race, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Congressman Michael Capuano, have failed to meet this test," Pagliuca said at a press conference.

Stephen Pagliuca speaks at a news conference Thursday. (Brent Baughman for WBUR)
Stephen Pagliuca speaks at a news conference Thursday. (Brent Baughman for WBUR)

"They will not be a reliable 60th vote in favor of health care reform," he said. "Indeed, both have stated publicly that they'll oppose this health care bill that passed the House if one like it emerges from the United States Senate. Attorney General Coakley has said that this is a false choice, but it is, in fact, a very real choice that Congress will face as they negotiate the final version of the bill."

Last week, Martha Coakley said she would not have voted for the health reform bill passed by the House, because it prohibits government funding of any health plan that covers abortions. Mike Capuano criticized Coakley for her position, but then said that if the bill comes back to the House with the anti-abortion language, he, too, would vote against it.

After his prepared remarks Thursday, Pagliuca seemed to concede that the choice with which he confronted Capuano and Coakley is a false choice. He predicted that, in the end, the health care legislation would probably not contain anti-abortion language.

"I don't think that's going to happen", he said. "I think the Democratic Congress will fight against all amendments restricting abortion, and so I think we will win that fight."

We didn't hear back from Coakley for this story, but Capuano took exception to Pagliuca's remarks.

"I'm the only person who actually advanced the ball on health care in order to be able to get it to the Senate," Capuano said in a telephone interview with WBUR, "and the Senate has now come out with a bill that seems to be better on the one issue."

Pagliuca is trying to position himself apart from Coakley and Capuano on this issue. But it's not clear how well this will work with the voters.

At lunch time at Faneuil Hall recently, several friends were trying to figure out whether Coakley helped herself with her stand against the House vote.

"It's also easy to say when you're not voting on it, right?" asked Bridget O'Connell of Brookline.

"Right," said Vicky Thavaseelan, also of Brookline. "Right. That's true. And you can take a stand when it's something that you can make that point and say: 'I won't vote for it' and it's sort of inevitable that it'll go through, so, you know, I don't know. I don't know what it means for her, to be honest."

Then their friend, Melissa Davis, of Somerville, jumped in.

"I think it definitely left her open to Capuano's attack that that's an easy stand to make as a candidate, but not when you're actually a legislator," Davis said.

"But how on the money do you think that kind of an attack is?" Thavaseelan asked. "He certainly pounced on her."

"Yeah," David said. "He pounced on her good, calling her naive, and I think it's not untrue. It has opened it up, though I certainly appreciate her stand as a candidate, saying that she would not have voted for it."

But that stand as a candidate may not work so well for Coakley among some voters. In Weymouth last Friday night, people gathered for the last home football game. This is a town with many fiscally conservative Democrats. In the stands, Joan Hanley was one of them. She said Capuano and Coakley hurt themselves.

"The money's coming out of my pocket," Hanley said. "I work hard every day, you know, and I believe a woman has a right to choose, but you can't burden other people with that choice, either."

Hanley said this issue will influence her vote. She is the kind of voter Pagliuca is trying to win over as he tries to make unequivocal support for health care reform the defining issue of the race.

This program aired on November 20, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.