WASHINGTON – Despite pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, Representative Stephen F. Lynch of South Boston said today that he will vote against President Obama’s health care overhaul when it comes to the House floor, contending that it doesn’t put enough pressure on insurance companies to reduce costs.
The move is a switch for Lynch, who voted in favor of the House health care bill in November. But he said the current version, which was approved by the Senate, is not as strong as that measure. Lynch’s decision makes passing health care more difficult for House leaders, who are trying to get commitments to vote yes from 216 representatives.
“We’ve paid the ransom, but at the end of the day the insurance companies are still holding the hostages,” Lynch said in an interview with the Globe early this afternoon. “This is a very good bill for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. It might be good for Nebraska, I don’t know. Or Florida residents…But it’s not good for the average American, and it’s not good for my district. Or for Massachusetts.”
He said he opposes the so-called Cadillac tax the Senate adopted that would put a surcharge on expensive health insurance plans, and he is also disappointed that the final bill doesn’t include proposals to allow states to adopt a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.
“The insurers still rule,” he said. “Were just pumping subsidies into the current system, but that won’t drive down costs.”
Pressure on him is coming from the White House, House leadership, and members of the Massachusetts delegation, but Lynch said he didn’t see a scenario where he could support the bill.
Lynch is going to the White House this afternoon to hear a plea from President Obama. Vicki Kennedy has also spoken to him.
Lynch downplayed any notion that Obama’s presidency could be irreparably damaged if his signature health care reform package is defeated.
“This will not sink his presidency,” he said. “That fear is overstated.”
He also deflected questions about his political future and whether he is seeking to appease angry voters as a way of setting himself up for a run in 2012 against Republican Senator Scott Brown, who won his office with a steady assault on the Democrats’ health care plans. “These are questions for another day,” he said. “We have a lot of road to travel.”
A second Massachusetts lawmaker, Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville, said he remains undecided. “I want to vote YES, but I am still not certain that this SPECIFIC bill deserves my support,” Capuano said yesterday in an email to supporters.
Lynch had counted himself earlier this week as undecided. He said he decided to vote no within the last several days. He said he is also opposed to the parliamentary procedures Democrats plan to use. Because their numbers in the Senate have diminished, they are planning to pass changes through a budget reconciliation process, which restricts the types of changes that can be made to ones that have a budgetary impact.
"I agree with Congressman Lynch, and I was pleased to hear that he will vote against this health care bill that is bad for Massachusetts," US Senator Scott Brown said in a statement.
“There doesn’t appear to be any way to put reform into this bill,” Lynch said. “It’s a very poor bill.”
Lynch also criticized the procedure Democrats are considering using to pass the legislation – by “deeming” the Senate bill approved, instead of voting directly on the Senate bill itself. Repeating a comment reported by the Boston Herald today, he called the procedure “disingenuous.” Echoing Republican complaints, he also said it “may be unconstitutional” because it wouldn’t involve an up-or-down vote on legislation.
“It’s a stretch,” he said. “I think it hurts our credibility to try to pull a prank like that. We should stand up and tell voters where we stand.”
Nonetheless, Lynch predicted it would pass.
“I think the president and speaker Pelosi are fairly persuasive,” he said. “They wouldn’t call on a vote unless they had the votes.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.