John Salazar talks about health care debate

Congressman accused of ducking debate speaks out

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U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa

On the 'Net

For CNN's full glossary of health care debate terms, click here.

By the numbers

Top industries contributing to John Salazar

- 2010 election cycle

1 : Health professionals : $12,400

2 : Transportation unions : $12,000

3 : Industrial unions : $10,500

4 : Democratic/liberal : $10,000

5 : Lawyers/law firms : $9,350

22 : Health services/HMOs : $2,500

- Career

1 : Lawyers/law firms : $344,982

2 : Leadership PACs : $205,319

3 : Transportation unions : $194,512

4 : Retired : $189,773

5 : Building trade unions : $188,000

11 : Health professionals : $120,458

Source: OpenSecrets.org

— U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Blue Dog Democrat accused of hiding from the health care debate, outlined and defended his stances on the issue Thursday. Those stances include support of the "public option" and his argument that health care reform is critical but cannot add to the national deficit.

Those stances include support of the "public option" and his argument that health care reform is critical but cannot add to the national deficit. He described the "town hall meetings" being held by other representatives and senators on the issue as unproductive.

Salazar represents Northwest Colorado - and much of the Western Slope - in Congress. He spoke with the Steamboat Pilot & Today about health care Thursday before speaking at the Colorado Water Congress' annual summer conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. He also talked about health care, in addition to energy legislation and federally funded water projects, during his conference address.

Last week, Colorado Republican Chairman Dick Wadhams attacked Salazar for not scheduling any "town hall meetings" to discuss health care, like the ones other representatives and senators have held across the country.

"John Salazar has been virtually invisible during the August congressional recess as he hides from the public," Wadhams stated in a news release.

As one of 52 members of the "Blue Dog" coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Salazar also has been criticized by leaders in his own party who hoped to finalize health care reform before the August recess.

"The Blue Dog coalition, we were actually able to slow down the process," Salazar said proudly. "This is not in my opinion about Democrat or Republican, but addressing America's health care needs. This is the one shot we have of getting it done right."

Salazar said prolonging the health care debate has produced better data and good conversations - and allowed legislators to actually read the competing proposals. Others accused the coalition of opposing health care reform, being obstructionist and perhaps harboring ulterior motives such as protecting campaign contributors.

So far in the campaign finance cycle for the 2010 election, the health professionals industry is the No. 1 industry contributing to Salazar at $12,400, according to OpenSecrets.org. The health services and HMOs industry has kicked in another $2,500. During the course of Salazar's political career, however, the health professionals industry is only the 11th-highest contributing industry at $120,458, and the health services and HMOs industry isn't in the top 20.

Salazar has won elections to represent Colorado's 3rd Congressional District in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Focus on the deficit

Salazar dismissed criticisms of the Blue Dogs.

"They by no means wanted to kill it," said Annie Fetcher, a Steamboat native and Salazar's executive assistant.

On the contrary, Salazar said, reform is absolutely necessary and noted that health care costs are inflating at a rate of 9.5 percent a year.

"If this continues, this will certainly bankrupt America," he said. "I think we all agree there needs to be some kind of health care reform."

In addition to addressing the cost curve and bringing health care inflation in line with overall inflation, Salazar said reform needs to address rural health care issues and America's uninsured while benefiting insured Americans. Salazar stood firm by the Blue Dogs' stance that increasing the national deficit is a deal-breaker.

"We have asked the president to propose something that will be deficit-neutral and doesn't fund (health care reform) on the back of our children," the congressman said. "We don't want to increase the deficit; that's for sure."

Salazar also explained why he hasn't held any town hall meetings.

"It's very hard to address and say this is where the legislation stands today," said Salazar, referring to the fact there are five versions of a health care reform bill in the House and Senate. "We don't even know what we're commenting on.

"This is an emotional discussion, health care reform is. It touches everybody," he continued. "It impacts every single American, that's for sure. : I think that open town hall meetings on such an emotional issue aren't very productive."

Salazar said he instead plans to hold a telephone town hall meeting, which thousands would be able to participate in by conference call.

Salazar said he would be willing to support a "public option" because he thinks creating a competitive marketplace for insurance is essential to reform, but he also lent weight to reports that the public option is dead.

"I would support a public option if that's what we could do," Salazar said. "My sense being a realist is that we are probably going to be looking toward a cooperative."

The public option refers to a government-run health care plan that would compete with private insurers. The co-op model is an alternative. Co-ops are owned and managed by their customers and also would compete with private insurers.

Salazar also said he wants to repeal legislation that prevents Medicaid from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices and close the "doughnut hole" that forces some seniors to pay full price for their prescriptions.

Salazar said he thinks a finalized health care reform proposal will be ready by the end of the year and that legislation is moving in a direction he supports.

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