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.