Top Union Official: ‘Pause Button’ on Health Care

By Jonathan Blakely

Jan 20, 2010 1:08pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: The fallout from the Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race has left health care negotiations effectively stalled, with general agreement that Democrats and their allies need to reassess their options in light of the results, a leading union official said today. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said on ABC’s “Top Line” today that stakeholders in the health care talks realize that voters in Massachusetts were speaking to a real frustration, particularly over the state of the economy. “Look, I think that everybody is taking a big pause button today in terms of trying to figure out, you know, what goes forward and what doesn’t,” Weingarten said. “I think any — any conclusions right now are premature.” “I think what you saw in Massachusetts is what we’ve seen with our members throughout the country, and what we see with anytime you’re in the country. People are upset and angry, we’re not out of — or they’re not out of the effects of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, and they’re angry that the banks are out of it but that they’re not out of it. In terms of health care, they need — and we hear this all the time — health care that is accessible and affordable and good. And those are the things that we should be listening to the people about.” Though some legislative leaders have suggested that health care negotiations aren’t impacted by yesterday’s results, the fact that Democrats lost their critical 60th Senate vote changes the dynamics in both the Senate and the House. Weingarten said she hopes the deal she helped reach at the White House last week, to limit the reach of a proposed new tax on health care benefits, still stands. “The discussions last week were about saying that high-cost plans don’t necessarily, or aren’t necessarily, high-end plans. And you know, in some ways that’s what you heard in Massachusetts as well. Massachusetts has had health care, universal health care. And what I think the residents of Massachusetts were saying is that that’s important, but they don’t want in this very tough economy — they want to be part of healthcare but they don’t want to be hurt by any national health care plan.” As for the broader message from yesterday’s election, Weingarten said: “We’re still reeling. … No one has a magic wand in terms of how to get out of this recession. And I think that’s what the Obama administration is feeling today, and I think that’s what the effects of the election are today. “But what also is interesting is all of a sudden the Republicans are going to have to take a little bit of responsibility here now, instead of just it all being on the Democrats’ shoulders. Think about what’s happened in the last six months: The Republicans have been the party of no, and instead of actually trying to govern in a bipartisan way they’ve just said ‘no.’ This creates both accountability as well as responsibility on their part. Make no mistake about it … this was a very important note from the American people and from those in Massachusetts saying ‘Hear our frustration, we’re scared, we need the economy turned around.’ ” Watch our discussion HERE.

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