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Boucher Treads Lightly Amid Health Care Reform Skepticism

ABINGDON, Va. — As Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) walked into a packed meeting hall at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va., on Thursday for his second of two scheduled town hall events over the August recess, Roanoke resident Larry Hunt shouted out a warning.

“I hope you took your nerve medicine this morning, Congressman,— Hunt said.

Boucher kept walking, stopping only to shake a few hands and to duck under a large “Don’t Tread On Me— flag that two men were holding up next to the steps of the stage.

Throughout the three-hour event, Boucher kept his usual calm demeanor and remained unflustered despite shouts of “bullshit— and “Big Brother is watching— as he tried to outline his views on the health care legislation that Congress will take up when it returns in September.

As he looks ahead to that work, Boucher, a 14-term House Member, said he’s lost confidence that the House of Representatives can come up with a bipartisan health care bill.

“I think a bipartisan process is necessary. … At the end of the day the public will be far more receptive to and accept better legislation that has bipartisan support,— Boucher said. “Unfortunately in the House of Representatives today we do not have a bipartisan process. I regret that.—

He said he’s now placing his hope in the Senate and the compromise measure that is currently being developed in the Senate Finance Committee and expressed his hope that the full Senate will pass a bill with broad bipartisan support that the House can then take up.

To the disappointment of a minority of the 1,400 or so attendees who came out for the event in this conservative southwest Virginia town about 10 miles from the Tennessee state line, Boucher said the health care debate is shifting away from creating a federally run health care option. But he said that shift is inevitable if a bipartisan bill is to be created

“There is no foreseeable circumstance under which 60 votes in the Senate can be obtained for a government-operated health care plan,— Boucher said.

But Boucher said privately run cooperatives were an approach that could work and also earn bipartisan backing.

One of those attendees who said he would be disappointed to see a public insurance option fall by the wayside was 60-year-old Abingdon resident Robert Goldsmith, who said his insurance company has been little help in his ongoing fight with lymphoma cancer.

“People talk about having a government bureaucrat standing between me and my doctor. I’d rather have a government bureaucrat standing there than have a private insurance company that’s motivated by profit,— Goldsmith said.

But judging by the response the idea of a public insurance option received — and the cheers that one woman received for mentioning conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh by name — most attendees did not share Goldsmith’s trust in the federal government.

“Our men and women in uniform are fighting every day for us. It’s my duty to stand up here and try to defend the democracy that they are fighting to keep,— Abingdon resident Mitch Butch said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure no one is re-elected who votes for this bill.—

Meanwhile, national Republicans seem to be doing everything in their power to try to finally put some pressure on Boucher during the 2010 cycle.

State Del. Terry Kilgore (R) acknowledged Wednesday that top Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., are encouraging him to challenge Boucher in the 9th district.

If he were to run, Kilgore would immediately be considered a top recruit in the conservative district where Republicans have been frustrated by their inability to field a top-tier candidate to challenge the popular Boucher.

But when Boucher’s political future was brought up Thursday, he said the subject wasn’t relevant to the important work that’s going on with health care.

“I have not given the first thought to next year,— Boucher said. “There is a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and next year. Next year will bring what it brings.—

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