Utah lawmakers denounce health care bill

Published March 21, 2010 10:36 pm
Health insurance » 'Assault,' 'travesty,' 'deeply flawed' are some of state's legislators' responses.
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President Barack Obama and House Democrats may have reacted to the final passage of a massive health reform bill with backslapping and applause late Sunday, but Utah's federal lawmakers were less than enthused.

They believe the historic bill is bad medicine for a nation suffering from a chronic financial sickness. And they levied varied criticisms ranging from its impact on abortions to the rising role of the federal government.

Utah's three House members -- Democrat Jim Matheson and Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz -- voted against the legislation that now goes to the president and a companion bill of negotiated changes that still needs Senate approval. Despite their opposition, the Senate health reform bill passed on a vote of 219 to 212, with 34 Democrats joining every Republican in opposition.

"It's a victory for the American people and it's a victory for common sense," Obama said shortly after the vote.

Bishop disagreed, calling the bill a "massive one-size-fits-all assault on freedom and choice." He said the federal reforms will quash state efforts to cover uninsured and combat rising medical costs.

"The destruction of Utah's creative alternative is the real tragedy," he said.

Chaffetz called the twin bills "a travesty" that would cost businesses money and allow taxpayer funds to cover abortions.

"This is a sad day for those of us who believe so strongly in the sanctity of life," he said.

Earlier in the day, Obama tried to assuage the concerns of pro-life Democrats by issuing an executive order saying no government funds would go to the controversial procedure, though many Republicans considered it mere window dressing.

"This war is not over," Chaffetz said, "but it was a devastating blow."

Matheson didn't comment after the vote, though he announced his opposition the day before claiming the $940 billion bill was too expensive and may increase premiums, not lower them.

While No Utahn in the House or Senate voted for the Democrats' reform bills, a couple of them did add items to the bill. Matheson helped include a proposal requiring chain restaurants to disclose calorie counts, while Sen. Orrin Hatch backed provision on abstinence only sex education, generic drugs and elder abuse.

Those ideas aside, Hatch criticized "the deeply flawed" bill for its new taxes and its overall cost, which is largely related to insurance subsidies for low- to middle-income people.

He promised the second bill, which included modifications demanded by House Democrats, would face a stiff fight in the Senate.

"When the focus turns back to the Senate this week, Republicans will work to carry out the will of the American people so they aren't saddled with more debt, more taxes, and more spending on an unaffordable entitlement program," he said Sunday evening. "There is still time to do the right thing."

mcanham@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">mcanham@sltrib.com

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