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What's Behind Senators' Mixed Health Care Messages?

5192097Proponents of health care reform have bemoaned the fact that a handful of senators from small, rural states are leading -- and by some measures, slowing down -- health care reform.

The "Gang of Six" -- the six senators engaging in backroom dealings to create a health care bill that can win some Republican support -- include Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. The Republicans in the group are Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Given some of these senators' remarks, it could be easy to conclude their efforts will prove fruitless -- and may not even be genuine, as the White House suggested this week.

How can legislators insist they are trying to achieve a compromise while badmouthing the president's agenda or speculating on partisan routes to reform? Why should legislators from such small states have so much say?

While they represent relatively few people, the so-called "gang of six" may in fact have the most compelling need for health care reform, a Los Angeles Times article points out. They represent rural states that typically have more uninsured and lower-income residents who could benefit the most from health care reform -- but they are also the states with some of the most vocal opposition to reform.

In Wyoming, for example, a disproportionate number of people do not have medical insurance, the LA Times reports, and a large majority of those without insurance have jobs -- but their employers do not offer coverage.

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At a town hall meeting in Gillete last week, Sen. Enzi initially told residents he believes Democrats and Republicans can work together to produce a bill. After attendees starting booing his calls for bipartisanship, however, he quickly changed his tone.

"If I hadn't been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care," Enzi said, according to the Gillete News-Record.

Similarly, in Iowa, 70 percent of the uninsured have jobs, the LA Times reports, yet Grassley has been resistant to Democratic reforms.

To further complicate the picture, new data compiled the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics serves as a stark reminder that these legislators are not only listening to their constituents.

Grassley is the top Senate Republican recipient of political donations from the health care industry, USA Today reports. He picked up $125,800 from the industry during the second quarter of this year, far surpassing the $53,200 the sector gave him in the first quarter. Democrats are pulling in a hefty share as well -- Baucus received $121,000 in the first half of this year.

Contributions from the health care sector rose 8 percent from the first quarter to the second quarter, according to the newspaper. In all, the industry donated $19.7 million to federal lawmakers in the first half of the year, with more than 40 percent going to the campaign and political action committees of legislators that belong to the five House and Senate committees responsible for health care.

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