I called Democratic Congressman Jim Marshall, who represents the 8th Congressional District in Middle Georgia, to check the status of health care reform currently lurching its way through Congress. I wanted to know if this hydra-headed monster has a chance of passage. I had been told he was one person in Washington who would not give me the party line. He would tell it like it is. And he did.
Marshall doesn't mince words, as befits a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger platoon sergeant in Vietnam, holder of two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.
"I think there is going to be some kind of health care reform," he said, "but the question is whether we can expand access for our citizens without bankrupting the country. As the bill stands right now, I would have to vote 'no' until we get a better handle on the costs. I am adamantly opposed to throwing more money at the current system." Remember, this guy is a Democrat.
Marshall is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats, described as the "moderate to conservative branch" of the party. However, he is quick to add that he's not in lockstep with everything the Blue Dogs do, and was not happy that four of the seven members of the group voted with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, even though they whacked more than $100 billion out of a bill that by some estimates could cost as much as $1.5 trillion.
"I would not have struck a deal," Marshall said, pointing out that his colleague and fellow Blue Dog, John Barrow of Georgia's 12th District, voted "no" to the committee compromise. "We can still get a fiscally better bill than what we have now," he says.
What does Marshall expect to hear from constituents during the recess? "I think most constituents are very much in favor of some kind of reform," he says. "They know the current system is way too inefficient and the outcomes are too poor." He says he is hearing mainly from "self-selectors," a novel way of describing those who have a big dog in the health care fight - the medical community, business groups, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. "It is interesting that when these groups are pressed, they can immediately and voluntarily identify savings that can be made." he says. "That tells me there still a lot more savings yet to be had in cutting health care costs."
Marshall pointed out one of the primary reasons health care is broken in this country: It is us. "Frankly, we Americans don't have good health habits. Obesity and diabetes are becoming major health issues in our society," he says, "and our current health care model encourages more services and more costs. If we took better care of ourselves, we could better control health care costs."
The congressman had to excuse himself to go vote, but I had talked to him long enough to know the Democrats don't have Marshall's vote yet and are going to have to earn it. I also have the feeling you might want to remember the name Jim Marshall. I don't think we have heard the last of this conservative, straight-shooting, decorated Army Ranger who marches to his own drum. He is a breath of fresh air in an arid political environment.