With health care votes, U.S. Reps Carney, Kanjorski risk political future
By voting for health care reform Sunday, U.S. Reps. Chris Carney and Paul E. Kanjorski gambled that voters will understand the benefits in time to re-elect them later this year.
Kanjorski, D-11, Nanticoke, a congressman since 1985, admitted he risked his political future and called it one of his most difficult votes ever. Carney, D-10, Dimock Township, in office since 2007, did not see his vote as politically risky and said voting yes was not difficult.
Their opponents Monday predicted an end to their days in Congress.
"People are livid," said David Madeira, one of three vying for the Republican nomination for Carney's seat, echoing Republican contenders for Kanjorski's seat.
But analysts said the potential political fallout for the incumbents is more nuanced and will depend on other factors such as the nature of their districts, their opponents and, most importantly, the economy.
"I think that both Carney and Kanjorski were vulnerable before their votes and both are vulnerable after the vote," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks House races. "Even though it's hot and heavy health care right now, I think jobs and the economy and voters' overall mood about the direction of the country are going to loom larger in November. I think health care is part of that."
Kanjorski and Carney could be in for a barrage on health care even heavier than pre-vote television and radio advertising urging them to vote no.
For Carney, the vote is fraught with greater peril, analysts said. Republicans outnumber Democrats about 5 to 4 in his district. The district is conservative, with President George W. Bush winning the district 60 to 40 percent in 2004 and Sen. John McCain by 54 to 45 percent when he ran for president in 2008.
"This is potentially a career-ending vote for people in districts carried by McCain," said G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., director of the Franklin and Marshall College poll.
National polls generally show more Americans opposed than in favor of the reform bill, though a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed the tide had turned.
In addition, a two-day poll of 300 likely voters in Carney's congressional district early this month showed 58 percent opposed and 28 percent in favor. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 5.8 percentage points and the pollster, the Tarrance Group, works for Republicans.
Madonna, an independent pollster, said a majority of residents likely oppose the bill given the district's political makeup, but said state and national polls also show economic concerns trumping health care.
Madeira, a business consultant, and the other Republican candidates in the race, former U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino and Snyder County Commissioner Malcolm Derk, all criticized Carney's vote. Each had some version of the argument that the bill would harm Medicare, costs too much and leaves room for taxpayer-funded abortions. The latter point Carney vehemently disputes.
"First of all, it's the right thing to do," Carney said. "Second of all, a majority of the district that contacted us wanted reform."
Carney said callers to his office said yes when asked if they wanted pre-existing conditions covered, an ability to change jobs while keeping the same health care and more affordable health care coverage. The bill contains provisions for all three, and he will spend the next months explaining that voters, he said.
"Once the aspects of the bill start to roll out and take shape, they'll see personally themselves," he said.
Provisions such as allowing students to remain on their parents' insurance plans, a $250 payment for senior citizens to cover a gap in prescription drug coverage and the end of denial of coverage for children's pre-existing medical conditions will take effect before the election. Success will depend on reminding voters of the bill's benefits over the next eight months, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said.
"There's going to be a different sense of it when it is being implemented," said Casey, who also believes economic concerns will be paramount to voters.
Kanjorski represents a largely Democratic district that voted 57 to 42 percent for Barack Obama for president in 2008, and polls show Democrats generally favor the bill. He faces a Democratic opponent first, Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien, but O'Brien said Monday he also would have voted yes.
"It's better to have something than nothing," O'Brien said. "I'm pleased that he voted for it."
For now, Kanjorski is taking all the heat because he cast the actual vote. Prospective Republican candidates Chris Paige and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta criticized the congressman. Barletta called it "un-American because it's against the will of the American people."
Kanjorski said he is prepared for the fallout, even if it costs him his job.
"We just pass through once, and you've got to make the decisions when you get the opportunity to do the right thing, have the guts to do the right thing," he said.
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