Prescription For Debate

Illinois pols take sides

The health care debate has come home to Illinois in an almost perfect reflection of the national fight.

South Side Democratic congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. reiterated his vow on Larry King Live last night to support a bill containing a public option.

Suburban Republican congresswoman Judy Biggert remains under fire for the overheated rhetoric of a recent flier she sent out. Downstate Democratic congressman Jerry Costello says lawmakers must take their time considering the legislation before them, despite White House wishes to the contrary.

And senior Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has backed away from the public option while junior Democratic U.S. Sen. Roland Burris isn't thrilled with the surfacing alternative of non-profit co-ops.

Meanwhile, Illinois's own version of Blue Dogs - Debbie Halvorson, Dan Lipinski, and Melissa Bean - remain on the fence.

Wanna know how the national health care debate is going (minus the real crazies)? Just check in with Illinois.

Jackson held a town hall meeting last night - with CNN cameras present - that he described to King as civil before laying down a marker for his friend, the president.

"A hundred and sixty members of Congress have already signed a letter indicating that without a strong public option, from their perspective, including my signature, that this bill is a non-starter," Jackson said.

Durbin is off the public band wagon; non-profit co-ops have been put forth as an alternative, but Burris - yes, he's still there, and he still gets a vote - is wary.

"A national, public plan option will have the clout to compete with large private insurers and reign in the excessive profits associated with their near monopoly power," Burris said in a written statement. "Although I have yet to see legislation on the proposed co-op, I am skeptical that its design can accomplish these same goals."

The bubbling up of the co-op idea strikes Costello as evidence that - despite White House entreaties - the legislative debate not be rushed. "We need to take our time and make sure we get it right," he said, also in a written statement.

Getting it right doesn't seem to be of major concern to Biggert, who was forced last week to admit that fliers she handed out claiming that senior citizens would have to get end-of-life counseling were "a little inflammatory," according to the Daily Herald.

"I probably wrote it when I was mad," she said.


The Illinois delegation - like other state delegations, to be sure - illustrates the difficulty of finding agreement on such complex legislation; how do you corral the interests of suburbanites, Downstaters, city folk, rich and poor, and politicians desperate to keep their seats and still come up with a bill that works for everyone?

Maybe we should lock Jackson and Biggert in a room and not let them out until they have their own bill just to find out.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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