31 August 2007

Colorado's Perlmutter quotes old polical boss

By Donna Smith

DENVER -- Ed Perlmutter, the U.S. Representative for House District 7 in Colorado, spoke to a group of constituents in Lakewood, Colo., on Wednesday and quoted an old political powerhouse when I asked him about health care lobbyist money as an influence on the health care reform debate.

The quote, in its cleaned-up form, turns out to be well-known:

"If you can't take their money, drink their liquor, screw their women, and then come in here the next day and vote against them, you don't belong here." -- Jesse Unruh, Speaker, California State Assembly, 1961-1969.

Known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” he also was credited with saying that money is the mother’s milk of politics. He was a powerful force on the national political scene and his political life served as a case study on “machine politics.”

It was interesting to have Unruh’s name come up in today’s session.

During the questions and answer period of Perlmutter’s meeting, I asked the freshman Congressman about making meaningful changes in health policy law and about bringing debate on health care reform to Congress. He pointed out that Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado’s 1st Congressional District is in a powerful position a vice chair on the Energy and Commerce Committee, where health care is a major focus.

I countered that I appreciated DeGette’s potential power, but that I had concerns about the fact that her second highest contributing group in terms of her campaign financing is from health care related lobbyists. I suggested that while that doesn’t unequivocally mean that her loyalty is to those lobbyists that it does and should raise a red flag for voters like me who are concerned about health care reform.

When Perlmutter came to her defense with the Unruh quote, I was a bit taken aback. He went on to explain that because he represents a diverse district with Republicans, Democrats and Independents, he receives campaign contributions from a wide variety of individuals and interests, but that does not mean he panders to individual contributing interests. “I have faith in Diana,” he added.
Audience members added their questions about why the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without universal health care.

Another woman echoed my concerns about why those approved for Social Security Disability must then wait two years for Medicare health benefits. That seems inherently unfair when a person has been determined to be too disabled to work but then languishes without insurance or burdens other insurance plans or is unable to secure coverage at any price in today’s health insurance environment.

I told Perlmutter that Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told me he would look into that too and would work to change that. The lag time between my husband Larry’s approval for Social Security Disability and his eligibility for Medicare coverage was one of the financially devastating factors that led to our bankruptcy as he fought his artery disease and I fought cancer.

All-in-all, Perlmutter said he is anxious to read all the health care reform proposals selected by Colorado’s 208 Commission and learn about the provisions of each proposal before settling on his preferred position. He pointed out that health care issues drive nearly 20 percent of the national economy and it is a complicated problem. He did not offer much support for universal health care. He didn’t speak against it.

I thanked him for his attentiveness, gave his staffer a copy of my July 17, 2007, testimony before the House Judiciary sub-committee, and told him I looked forward to meeting with him in Washington, D.C., as scheduled for Sept. 26, before the vigil on the Lincoln Memorial steps on Sept. 28 at sundown.

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