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Matheson feeling pressure to decide on health care vote

Posted - Mar. 19, 2010 at 6:21 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- With the Democrats' decisive health care vote looming, pressure mounts for Utah Congressman Jim Matheson, who's still undecided.

Matheson says he's weighing a critical decision, but all sides are turning up the heat on the Democrat, whose seat is in a largely conservative district. He's hearing it in front of his office.

Opposition to Health Care Reform
U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R) Utah:
"It is no wonder that Democrats are too afraid to take a vote on this bill. The ‘fixes' to the health care bill add $150 billion in new taxes bringing the total amount of tax hikes on Americans to $644 billion and deepens cuts to Medicare by slashing $525 billion from our seniors."
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R) Utah:
"The other side of the aisle is determined to use every means necessary - from sweetheart deals, union hush money, and even campaign cash for those supporters - to get it passed. They don't seem to care that people across this country are begging them to stop. They simply believe that Washington knows best."

"This health care bill is too wide, too broad, too sweeping. [It] throws out everything good that we have going in the United States with our health care system," says Utah resident Marilyn Valentine.

Hundreds of Utah doctors want Matheson to back the bill, and so do Democrats who see it as key to their majority and the president's agenda.

But Matheson's GOP challenger accuses him of sitting on the fence for a vote he believes the incumbent can't survive if it's "yes."

"He's on the sideline right now. He's not leading one way or the other," says Morgan Philpot. "He's alienated his own base. He has disappointed the Republicans who voted for him, who've wanted leadership against Obamacare."

"I still believe there's not way he votes 'yes,'" Philpot continues. " I think the ramifications for voting 'yes' is he loses the district for sure. I think it's because everyone wants his leadership and they're not getting it."

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch obviously wants Matheson to vote "no" on the bill, and thinks he will.

"Oh, I believe Jim will be with us on this. I mean, he knows what to do here," Hatch says.

Meanwhile, progressive Democrats, like former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, and supporters of a single-payer plan aren't happy with him or the final bill.

Support of Health Care Reform
The White House:
It expands health insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, guaranteeing that 95% of Americans will be covered, and it reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion over next ten years, and by more than one trillion dollars over the following decade; reining waste, fraud and abuse; overpayments to insurance companies and by paying for quality over quantity of care.

"There's nothing that he has done that any person who has fundamental Democratic values can be proud of," Anderson says.

"Jim Matheson never did a thing, never lifted a finger, never spoke up once to help people who do not have health care get it," says public option advocate Dr. Clark Newhall.

"I think Jim Matheson won't vote for the bill. Jim Matheson always goes with the polls, regardless of the long-term public interests," Anderson says. "He has not provided any leadership in getting us a bill that's going to benefit the American people."

He continues, "I don't think there's a good progressive in the state who will again vote for Jim Matheson. I think they've finally figured out that it's not enough that someone put a "D" after their name."

Newhall agrees.

"You've heard of 'rhinos,' Republicans in name only. Congressman Jim Matheson is a 'dino,' Democrat in name only," Newhall says. "Neither helpful nor likely to provide healthcare for anyone. Whether he votes for Obama's bill or against it makes absolutely no difference to anyone but Jim Matheson."

For Jim Matheson, it's a classic case of "stuck between a rock and a hard spot."

"I think a ‘yes' vote on health care could cost him his seat. It's that big a vote. It's that tangible," says Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"If he votes ‘no,'" Jowers continues, "He'll be re-elected comfortably, and the Democratic convention will be one of the most uncomfortable days of his life."

University of Utah political science professor Dr. Tim Chambliss agrees with Jowers.

"But he's a public figure, and he's accepted that position," Chambliss says. "He knows he's going to be criticized. He knows it's a landmark piece of legislation."

Chambliss believes Matheson will vote "no" because he's a fiscal conservative. Still, Chambliss doesn't think that necessarily means Matheson will lose his job.

"Though this is probably the major vote of this particular Congress, it's not the only vote," he says.

Matheson's spokeswoman, Alison Heyrend, says the Congressman "just got the bill last night and is still reading it." She says it's unlikely he'll decide Friday, but the vote likely happens Sunday.

Heyrend also says Matheson's staff has heard from more people on this issue than any issue since he joined Congress a decade ago.

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Story compiled with contributions from John Daley and Cleon Wall.

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