In the suburbs, incumbents, rivals give their (predictable) take

Posted: March 18, 2010

As the U.S. House prepares to vote on President Obama's health-care overhaul, the battle lines were drawn this week in the competitive congressional districts surrounding Philadelphia.

Many Democratic candidates across the country have been reluctant to take a position on the highly controversial bill, but the incumbents and front-running challengers in the suburbs are now on the record.

And the results are . . . pretty much what you'd expect.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, of the 6th District, which covers parts of Chester, Montgomery and Berks counties, criticized the complex parliamentary maneuvers that Democrats are considering to get the bill to Obama's desk. He called the reform package "draconian and disastrous."

Pat Meehan, the Republican former U.S. attorney running in the Delaware County-based 7th District, said he supports efforts to reduce insurance premiums, but opposes the Senate bill that the House is expected to vote on by week's end.

"Taking on a dramatic new expansion of entitlement programs at this time without first looking to control costs is a recipe for future disaster," Meehan said.

Last week, The Hill, the congressional newspaper, reported that several Democratic congressional candidates would not commit to voting for the health-care bill, including state Rep. Bryan Lentz in the 7th District and former Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike in the 6th District.

But both candidates told the Daily News yesterday that they support the bill, as did 6th District Democratic candidate Manan Trivedi, a health-care policy adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

"We must make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans, and until that happens, I will not accept taxpayer-funded health care as a member of Congress," Pike said in a statement.

"Lowering the cost to the consumer has got to be the first priority," Lentz said. "In order to do that, we have to begin the process of reforming the payment system."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is stepping down from his 7th District seat to run for Senate, will vote for the bill, calling it "a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul a broken health-care system that is bankrupting American families, businesses and our country." He is holding a town-hall meeting Sunday in Philadelphia to discuss the vote.

In the Bucks County-based 8th District, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a "blue dog" Democrat, announced this week that he'd vote for the legislation to end insurance companies' "abusive practices," such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Mike Fitzpatrick, his likely GOP opponent and the district's former congressman, strongly opposes it, saying the bill is "teeming with taxpayer funded bribes" and amounts to a "government takeover of health care."

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