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Burris meeting today with Obama White House health czar; Burris concerned over "opt out" in health plan

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Roland Burris is critical of the compromise health plan Senate leaders crafted to allow states to opt out of a government-sponsored "public option" insurance plan. With Burris' vote potentially crucial, I've learned that the Obama White House will be paying attention to him for the first time today, dispatching the health "czar" to his Senate office.


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Roland Burris is critical of the compromise health plan Senate leaders crafted to allow states to opt out of a government-sponsored "public option" insurance plan. With Burris' vote potentially crucial, I've learned that the Obama White House will be paying attention to him for the first time today, dispatching the health "czar" to his Senate office.

The health debate -- and the need for Senate Democrats to eventually muster 60 votes to make the legislation filibuster-proof -- means that Burris' can't be taken for granted. While other House and Senate members have been stroked by the Obama White House -- and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) singled out for massive attention -- Burris, who is filling the remainder of President Obama's Senate term, has been ignored.

Senate leaders had been counting on Burris' support after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced the compromise in which states could opt out of a federal public option plan.

"Our public option isn't a left proposal or a right proposal; this is a consensus, a compromise that represents months of hard work and debate and will benefit all Americans," Reid said Tuesday. "It's an important way to ensure competition, to level the playing field for patients. It protects consumers and keeps the insurance companies honest."

Burris had said he would not support a bill that did not include a public option, and Senate leaders assumed -- incorrectly -- that the "opt out" compromise satisfied Burris.

Once word got back to the Obama legislative team that Burris was not on board, Nancy-Ann DeParle, counselor to the president and director of the White House Office of Health Reform, made an appointment with him.

Burris spokesman Jim O'Connor said Burris is concerned about several items, including the influence of insurance companies to hold sway over state legislatures. Though it's hard to imagine Illinois -- currently with a Democratic governor and Democrats controlling the Illinois General Assembly -- opting out of an Obama health-care plan, O'Connor said Burris was worried "for states like Illinois, can accept unlimited corporate [campaign] contributions, it may open the door for special interests like insurance companies to influence legislatures to opt out."

Reid's first test is to get the legislation to the Senate floor, usually a routine maneuver. Burris is likely not to object to a motion to proceed to debate. But others might, including Senators Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. For the legislation to advance, Burris, as well other senators who are balking at the deal for various reasons, must be satisfied -- or cajoled -- because there are no likely GOP votes except for Snowe.

The cool relationship between the White House and Burris -- and Sen. Dick Durbin -- is a result of the controversy over Burris' accepting the appointment from the tainted, impeached and indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Earlier this year, Durbin suggested that Burris should resign the seat.

1 Comment

Suddenly, Roland Burris, the "invisible Senator,"
becomes the media attention-seeker we've known for years. Do you think that Burris' support of the compromise health plan will be linked to favorable resolution of his Senate ethics probe and payment of his mounting legal bills ?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 28, 2009 6:16 AM.

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