A couple of weeks back, I wrote that former Congressman Mike Ross’ candidacy for governor may be the best hope for Democrats to regain some footing in 2014. Rumblings from Republican politicos seem to confirm that. They fear Ross could win the nomination and provide a boost for state Democrats.

Republicans are already searching Ross’ voting record and came across one in July 2009 to move the federal health care bill out of committee. Ross was among Blue Dog Democrats to hold the bill up to get concessions — mostly to protect small business interests — before the panel finally recommended the bill. Still, his ultimate vote to get the bill out of committee will become a target of Republicans.

The vote came up during Ross’s re-election campaign in 2010, but Republican opponent Beth Anne Rankin did not have the funding to exploit it effectively through advertising. There will be a lot more dollars to throw around this time.

The vote was cast in the House Energy and Commerce Committee early in the process of health care reform.

"It was 10 days of very intense negotiation," Ross told me at the time. "I was not trying to kill health care reform. If I was, I would not have been in negotiations for 10 days. But we knew that once we reached an agreement the extreme right would say that I caved and the extreme left would protest and that is exactly what happened. I am in the middle and I have the extremes of both sides coming at me and that’s OK because I’m in the middle and believe that is where the majority of American people are."

"We protected small businesses," said Ross, defending the vote. "Eighty-six percent of small businesses in America today will no longer be subject to any type of employer mandate to provide health insurance coverage, but at the same time those small business owners, as well as their employees, will have access to affordable health care."

The other key concession Ross got was to delay the vote on health care until after the August recess to give Congress time to hear from constituents. And boy did they get an earful!

Ross arrived home to find that constituents opposed the new law for the most part. After hearing from them, he went back to Washington and consistently voted against Obamacare, including several votes for repeal.

But it is still a valid point that Ross and his Blue Dog colleagues cast votes that allowed the bill to move out of committee. It is impossible to know if they could have stopped the law from passing if they had held firm and voted no, or if the bill would have evolved in a different format without some of the key concessions they were able to negotiate.

In other words, did Ross advance Obamacare or did he make it slightly better?

I cannot help but note some striking parallels to a similar position some Republican state legislators have found themselves in this session. Faced with voting to allow Medicaid expansion as part of the implementation of Obamacare or reject expansion entirely, leaders chose to negotiate a compromise private option plan to allow expansion but with key concessions they believe is a better deal for Arkansas.

Interestingly, many of those Republican leaders will be up for re-election in 2014 as Ross attempts to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. Will Arkansas voters perceive their votes as being against federal health care reform? Or, will they perceive votes for a negotiated private option as votes to advance Obamacare? It’s a safe bet which one will make the bumper stickers.


Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com