Despite appeals from fellow Democratic legislators, an Oval Office session with President Obama and a meeting with the widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. Stephen Lynch on Friday staunchly defended his intention to vote against the president's health care overhaul.
Speaking to WBUR, Lynch invoked the late champion of health care as part of the rationale for his decision. "I don't think this is true reform," Lynch said. "This is not Ted Kennedy reform."
Should health care fail on Sunday, Lynch denied that his vote would tarnish the cause Kennedy fought decades for.
"This is about the people who will be affected," Lynch said. "I would feel greater guilt if I were to support something that allowed the insurance companies to continue to operate as they have and create a situation that Ted Kennedy stood against."
“I think we’re surrendering. The House bill that I voted for was a compromise, but this is a total surrender of all the things that people who truly believed in reform were pursuing.”
-- Rep. Stephen Lynch
House members have reported taking thousands of calls and e-mails from constituents, ahead of Sunday's vote. Lynch said his office has been flooded by South Boston constituents — the majority of which have expressed their opposition to reform.
"We’ve been hearing loud and clear from them for quite a while," Lynch said. "They are, I would say, about 70-30 or 75-25 against the reform … of the Senate bill."
Lynch received similar calls against his decision to vote for the House health bill in November. He said there is "a calculus that you make on every vote," weighing constituency opinion with what you believe are "good bills."
And Mr. Obama's health care proposal, which is closely aligned with the version the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, does not meet Lynch's criteria.
"The Senate bill, unlike the one we’ve passed and that I supported in the House, has stripped most of the significant reform out of the bill," he said.
Lynch cited three main differences between the House and Senate versions: The House bill repeals the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies and allows states to adopt a public option. The House version also introduces an excise tax on high-income earners, while the Senate bill relies on the so-called "Cadillac tax" on high-cost plans — which, Lynch said, "weakens the underpinnings of the funding mechanism for this whole expansion."
The latest version of the health care overhaul merely maintains the existing system, rather than enacting systemic reform, Lynch said. He has to vote for "one bill at a time," he said, rather than relying on promises of further reform later, and expressed doubts about the Senate's ability to pass legislation.
"There’s a better way to do this," Lynch said. "I think we’re surrendering. The House bill that I voted for was a compromise, but this is a total surrender of all the things that people who truly believed in reform were pursuing."
The South Boston congressman said that Mr. Obama, in the White House meeting, conceded that his health overhaul contained both pros and cons. He said the president made a thoughtful argument for voting for the bill while recognizing its inadequacies.
Though he called Mr. Obama "a very persuasive person," Lynch was unswayed. He dismissed the notion that a failed health care push would significantly weaken the Democratic president.
"This is the end of year one," Lynch said. "This will not determine the success or failure of his presidency."
Lynch said his meeting with the president was similar to his conversation with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of former Sen. Kennedy. She too asked the congressman to overlook the overhaul's shortcomings. They also discussed possible fixes to the Senate bill through reconciliation, but Lynch believes the Senate parliamentarian's rulings limit that potential.
"I don't believe we should be spending a trillion dollars on something that needs to be fixed so drastically," he said.
This program aired on March 19, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.