Describing Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln’s position on healthcare reform as a flip-flop doesn’t do justice to her political flexibility. During a year of contentious debate on President Obama’s signature domestic priority, she’s been all over the map.
In July 2009, she offered her support for Obama’s healthcare plan and his inclusion of a public insurance option. "Individuals should be able to choose from a range of quality health insurance plans," she wrote in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Options should include private plans as well as a quality, affordable public plan or non-profit plan that can accomplish the same goals as those of a public plan."
Yet two months later, after the public option came under fire from insurance companies and Tea Partiers, Lincoln changed her tune. "I would not support a solely government-funded public option," she said on September 1 in Little Rock. "We can’t afford that." She vowed to filibuster any healthcare bill that included the public option she once supported, even though 56 percent of Arkansans backed the provision.
In December, she supported the Senate’s healthcare reform legislation–which did not include a public option, in part due to opposition from the likes of Lincoln. Her first re-election ad this year cited her vote "against the public option healthcare plan," along with a number of other Obama initiatives. "I don’t answer to my party," she said. "I answer to Arkansas."
In March 2010, Lincoln hailed the efforts of House Democrats to pass the Senate’s healthcare bill, noting its "significant benefits" for Arkansas. But she then opposed the efforts of Senate Democrats to pass the House’s fixes to the bill through reconciliation–the very process that enabled Democrats to agree on a final bill. "My opposition today to the package of amendments sent over by the House was that it did not undergo the same scrutiny and transparency as the Senate health bill that is now law," she announced on March 25. Only three Senate Democrats voted no on reconciliation–Lincoln, fellow Arkansan Mark Pryor (who wanted to give her political cover) and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.
Lincoln’s obstructionism on healthcare and a host of other fronts persuaded Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter–a rising star in the state–to challenge her in the Democratic primary on May 18. Halter helped organize a free healthcare clinic for a thousand Arkansans in November 2009 and supported a public insurance option, along with passage of a final bill through reconciliation. He’s been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, SEIU and MoveOn, and recent polls show him gaining on Lincoln.
Now, in an attempt to court the Obama voters she’s repelled throughout the past year, Lincoln is running ads on African-American radio in Arkansas claiming she "stood with our president to pass healthcare reform." The ad continues: "Even though the Tea Party and insurance companies attacked Blanche Lincoln, she never abandoned our president, nor you." Listen to the ads below.
The ads also take a shot at Halter’s main accomplishment as lieutenant governor–creating a state lottery to pay for scholarships for college, a popular program in the low-income state. "Bill Halter keeps talking about lottery this, lottery that," says one man in the ads. "The lottery doesn’t give me access to healthcare."
In response, the Halter campaign began running this ad:
"Who is Blanche Lincoln trying to fool on healthcare?" says the narrator. "Here’s the deal: she didn’t stand up to the special interests, she worked for them. She sided with those Republicans who tried to kill President Obama’s reforms unless insurance company profits were protected. Insurance companies and HMOs rewarded Lincoln with more the $800,000 in campaign cash…Senator Lincoln, my people aren’t fooled. Bill Halter is the one who’ll stand up for us."
In addition to the healthcare ads, Lincoln has been touting her "A" rating from the NAACP, which the organization’s Arkansas chapter takes issue with. "If I had to grade her even on health care reform she definitely wouldn’t get an A," said Dale Charles, president of the Arkansas NAACP. "She’d maybe get a C minus."
I’ll have much more on this hotly contested race as we get closer to the primary.