Lipinski Blazes Trail on Pelosi and Policy
by Kristen McQueary
November 21, 2010
As he asked voters for their support outside Mount Greenwood School in Chicago on Election Day, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), of Western Springs, noticed a burly man in his 30s wearing a "Throw The Bums Out" button. The three-term congressman hesitated before approaching him.
"I wondered, 'Should I even bother going up to him?' " Lipinski said Thursday from Washington, D.C. "I told him I was Dan Lipinski and I would appreciate it if he would vote for me. He said I was the only incumbent he would be voting for. That's what I'm going to remember most about Election Day."
As the only Illinois Democrat who voted against President Barack Obama's health care bill in November 2009, and as a survivor of a Republican surge that ousted dozens of Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats on Nov. 2, Lipinski continues to raise his profile in the U.S. House as independent-minded.
His vote against Nancy Pelosi last week for minority leader may diminish his effectiveness in pushing policy - loyalty, not dissent, earns reward in politics - but he continues to forge a contrarian path nonetheless. He joined a handful of caucus insurgents in an effort to decentralize Pelosi's power in appointment-making, too.
"Whether she deserved it or not, Nancy Pelosi is not a good face for the Democratic Party right now," Lipinski said. "By putting (Pelosi) and the same team back in, we are saying to the American people we're not going to change direction, and I think it's a bad message to be sending.
"This is not personal against (Pelosi). There were a lot of attacks against her, and some were over the top and completely ridiculous, and as others have said, yeah, there's some sexism in it, too. But whatever the reasons ... she is probably the most disliked national political figure right now."
His vote on Pelosi mirrors his buck-the-party approach in general.
Lipinski voted against Obama's health care bill because it failed, in his opinion, to control rising health care costs. He also believed the bill created a loophole for federal funding of abortions, although Obama signed an executive order preserving the so-called Hyde Amendment that blocks such funding.
But even as Republicans forge ahead with a "mandate" to repeal the act, Lipinski cautions against it.
"The big question they are grappling with is what do they replace it with?" he said.
Democrats did a lackluster job reminding voters this fall of the positive aspects of the bill, including ending insurance companies' longstanding practice of discriminating based on pre-existing conditions.
Do voters want a full repeal, a return to the status quo, which for years has allowed profitable insurance giants to deny coverage for minuscule reasons, drop coverage of sick clients and institute payout caps? To repeal the law unwinds the clock on regulatory measures that millions of Americans supported.
"Republicans do not have an easy problem to deal with," Lipinski said. "They committed to repeal, but I think, politically, they're going to find a lot of push back."
Even Lipinski doesn't favor full repeal. Rather, he supports tweaking the law to make it less expensive.
For example, he would eliminate the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, known as the CLASS Act, because the future costs to taxpayers outweigh the benefits. The CLASS Act is a national, voluntary insurance program to help the disabled pay for their long-term care needs. Concern is growing over the creation of another "entitlement program" that drains more money than it generates, he said.
Lipinski also would keep Medicare reimbursement rates to providers at their current levels to avoid the 23 percent cut scheduled to take effect Dec. 1. He would rather see health care costs controlled by forcing hospitals to disclose their pricing and by allowing the federal government to negotiate Medicare prescription costs directly with drug companies instead of going through insurers. Democrats dropped that plank as the health care bill lurched through the House last year.
"I was very unhappy. Democrats have been calling for that ever since I've been in Congress," he said.
He also supports a change to the health care bill that would remove a burdensome Form 1099 tax-reporting mandate on small-business owners. That change is expected to sail through both chambers.
Certainly, Lipinski doesn't have the clout to build majority support for his suggested changes within his caucus. If anything, his disinterest in being a team player incites ostracism from his fellow Democrats.
Personally, I didn't agree with his health care vote. Democrats swept into Congress and the White House in 2008 in part because of our country's health care crisis - and there is one, raging.
Millions of families have been forced into foreclosure and bankruptcy because of medical bills, and Congress for too long ignored the squeeze on the middle class. Lawmakers allowed the insurance industry to chase profit margins while abandoning sick and dying Americans. That's the truth.
The protections Democrats approved in November 2009 and which Obama signed into law in March of this year, including ending pre-existing condition discrimination, marked major strides toward a fairer system. Republicans would be unwise to try to delete them, as Lipinski says.
Republicans should listen. Lipinski has shown a knack for reading tea leaves. He voted against the $700 billion bailout bill in October 2008, withstanding pressure from dozens of political leaders and special interest groups clamoring for relief.
He voted "present" on the final version of Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill in February 2009 because it would not, he predicted, create the jobs promised. It didn't invest enough in prudent infrastructure projects.
Turns out, he was right.
His popularity within his conservative-leaning Chicago/suburban district continues to increase. He won 70 percent of the vote on Election Day, compared with 54 percent for Gov. Pat Quinn and 52 percent for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.
Republicans in Illinois picked off Democratic U.S. Reps. Melissa Bean, Debbie Halvorson and Bill Foster, all of whom tailored carefully crafted, moderate voting records. They still lost.
So Lipinski's perspective ought to be embraced by his caucus, not shunned.
Add it to the list of many things to which the House Democratic caucus ought to be paying closer attention.
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