LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas' four congressmen were split Friday on whether they would support a proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system that's coming up for a crucial vote this weekend.
Democratic Rep. Mike Ross and Rep. John Boozman, the state's only Republican congressman, said they planned to vote against the Senate version of the sweeping overhaul bill on Sunday. Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder's office said the congressman planned to vote for the measure.
It was unclear whether the legislation would win the support of Democratic Rep. Marion Berry.
The proposal before the House would expand health care to 32 million uninsured people, bar the insurance industry from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and trim federal deficits by an estimated $138 billion over the next decade.
Ross was the only Democratic congressman from the state to vote against the health care bill last year, and is the only incumbent congressman in Arkansas seeking re-election. Snyder and Berry are retiring at the end of their terms, and Boozman is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate.
"I heard you loud and clear and that's why I remain opposed to the House health care reform bill that I voted against last year, as well as the Senate bill that we will vote on this weekend," Ross said in a statement released by his office.
A spokesman for Berry did not immediately return a call Friday. Berry has said he wanted stronger language restricting federal dollars for abortion.
The health care measure has dominated Arkansas' political scene this year, with Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln facing anger from both the right and the left on the issue. Boozman and the other seven Republicans running for the party's Senate nomination have criticized Lincoln for voting for the Senate health care bill last year.
Lincoln also faces a challenge in the Democratic primary from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been backed by labor unions and liberal groups criticizing Lincoln for opposing a new government-run insurance program as part of the health care overhaul.
The health care overhaul is being considered in two bills that President Barack Obama hopes lawmakers will send him in the coming days.
The first, at more than 1,000 pages, cleared the Senate late last year but went no further because House Democrats demanded significant changes — the very types of revisions now incorporated into the fix-it measure.
House Democratic leaders will likely to try and pass both bills with a single vote in hopes of avoiding a stand-alone roll call on the unpopular Senate measure.
Passage in the House would send the first bill to the president for his signature, and the other measure to the Senate for a final vote expected by the end of next week. Over GOP objections, it will take place under rules that bar a filibuster, meaning Democrats will not be required to post a 60-vote majority
Lincoln has insisted she's opposed to passing the measure by a simple majority in the Senate, but has said she wants to see what's in the companion bill.
Halter said Friday he supports the companion bill, and has said he's in favor of using the simple majority vote.
"I would support this package of legislation to become law so we could finally, after decades, begin to address the fact that 450,000 Arkansans don't have health insurance," Halter said.
Halter also said he supports a student loan provision included in the health care package being considered this weekend. Under the proposal, federally guaranteed student loans would now be made only by the government, ending a role for banks and other for-profit lenders who charge fees.