Murray: Reform is right

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray brushed aside criticism of the national health-reform bill Wednesday, saying it's not perfect but that voters like it better once they learn its details.

“First of all, I have been campaigning to reform this system that’s not working since I ran in 1992. And this is a major step forward,” Murray said, adding that she would have voted for the Senate bill even if it meant losing the November election.

Murray made her remarks in a meeting with The Olympian’s editorial board, describing the final passage of health reform a week ago as “an amazing journey.”

Critics, such as U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested that Republicans should run in fall campaigns to repeal the health reform and replace it with something else. A couple of Murray’s more than 10 challengers this fall – Republican state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, most prominently – are taking that approach, and Benton said Wednesday that he has 1,156 names on his online petition urging repeal of the reform bill or the replacement of Murray.

Murray, a three-term Democrat who ranks No. 4 in the U.S. Senate power hierarchy, touched on many other issues. She said another round of economic stimulus is unlikely, despite stubborn jobless rates.

However, she is at work on a major bill to free up $30 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help get bad loans off the books of community banks that are caught in the continuing credit freeze.

And she is at work on a bill to help military veterans get jobs – including provisions to let veterans use GI Bill benefits for training in the trades, as well as for four-year degrees.

Murray also is getting assailed on the economy’s slow recovery, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee slammed her Wednesday for the continuing loss of jobs. The NRSC said in a news release that health reform already is costing The Boeing Co. $150 million in the first quarter this year.

Murray said Boeing’s charges were related to the way changes to Medicare affect its retirees. The reform bill is cutting the federal subsidy for some private, supplemental Medicare coverage plans, which had to be done to make Medicare solvent and sustainable, she said.

One USA Today-Gallup poll a week ago showed a 49-40 plurality of the public favors the reform, but its poll this week showed 50 percent opposed and 47 percent in favor. Murray downplayed the threat to majority Democrats and said voters have pointed out how reform helps them.

She said it provides 35 percent tax credits for small businesses that provide insurance to workers, lets parents keep children on their health policies until age 26 and corrects a decades-old problem in Medicare that pays less to Washington providers than those in other, politically powerful states. It closes part of the Medicare prescription-drug coverage gap for seniors, and in 2014 it will prevent insurers from denying coverage to people who have pre-existing conditions.

“There is a lot that will be implemented over the next six months. If the Republicans are going to vote on repeal, they will be taking that away,” she said, outlining what looks like the Democrats’ argument going into the November elections.

Murray also said the bill is not perfect and that she plans to carefully watch the phase-in of the bill’s elements through 2014 to see if cost-containment efforts work.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688