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Nye, Wittman Focus on Parties’ Areas of Agreement in Health Debate

NORFOLK, Va. — When Virginia Reps. Rob Wittman (R) and Glenn Nye (D) appeared together Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Eastern Virginia Association of Health Underwriters, the statement that got the loudest applause had nothing to do with the health care reform proposals that Congress will consider in September.“If you came here today to see a partisan dispute, I think you picked the wrong Democrat and the wrong Republican,— Nye said, eliciting cheers from the audience.As their party leaders continue to spend the August recess duking it out in the court of public opinion on most every aspect of health care reform, the two junior Congressmen went out of their way Wednesday to demonstrate all the places where they agree on the issue.“I think the important part of the discussion today was the fact that Rob Wittman and I talked about how we agree on probably 85 to 90 percent of issues surrounding health care reform and the need for reform,— said Nye, a freshman who is being targeted by national Republicans in 2010. “I still hope there’s a way that we can find some kind of bill that can be supported in a bipartisan way.—Wittman — who put their area of agreement at closer to 80 percent to 85 percent — said the only way to reduce the crushing cost of health care and help average Americans will be to work across the aisle rather than simply to create roadblocks.“I know everything we get focused on is sort of the areas of disagreement,— Wittman said, pointing to the debate over the idea of creating a public insurance option as an example. “[But] if we’re going to do something, we will do something because of where we find areas of agreement, not because we highlight areas of disagreement.—But it’s not like Nye and Wittman, whose districts abut each other in Tidewater Virginia, are getting ready to hit the road together for a bipartisan health care tour. The hourlong meeting Wednesday, to which Nye arrived 25 minutes after it began, is the only public event that either Member has planned for the August recess that includes a joint discussion with a Member of the other party.Meanwhile, Wednesday’s EVAHU audience was a far cry from the highly charged town-hall events that have drawn attendees to tell horror stories about their tangles with health insurance providers. The majority of the about 80 men and women in the room were independent health insurance agents, with a smattering of carrier representatives and brokers. It was a group that is edgy about the reform bills working their way through Congress and anxious to learn how a public insurance option or a privately run cooperative might affect their jobs.The title of Wednesday’s meeting was “Health Care Reform: What Just Happened,— which was organized when the group believed Democratic leaders were going to be successful in pushing a health care bill through Congress before the August recess. During his remarks, Nye brought up the title of the program and pointed to his efforts as a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition to keep Democratic leaders from rushing a health care bill to the floor before August.Matthew Manock, president of the EVAHU and a director of sales for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said he was encouraged by what he heard Wednesday from Wittman and Nye.“I have a little more trust that they wouldn’t allow something to happen that would squeeze out the importance of an independent insurance broker or the private insurance carrier,— Manock said. “It sounds like they are on track to keep the free market alive, to have true competition, and not something that is artificially there to crowd out— competition.Manock also said he believes Wednesday’s panel with Wittman and Nye offered a more constructive discussion of health care than the highly charged scenes that have played out on cable news programs since Democrats began their town-hall push earlier this month.“Some of [the town-hall events] are over the top,— Manock said. “Everybody has a bad story to tell, [but] everybody also has a good story to tell. … Sometimes the loudest voice is the one that becomes heard.—

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