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February 24, 2012

In Health Care Vote, Wright Sides With Dems

As we reported earlier this week, Kurt Wright has styled his campaign for mayor of Burlington as a post-partisan affair, despite a reliably Republican record representing the New North End in Montpelier.

Last night, Wright’s post-partisan cred was put to the test as the Vermont House voted almost entirely along party lines in a preliminary vote to establish a state-run health insurance exchange.

Mayor graphicI say ‘almost entirely’ because there was one Republican who bucked his party and voted with the Democrats: Kurt Wright.

“I think, like most people do think, the system that we have does have to be reformed. We do have a broken system that’s very expensive for employers and employees,” Wright explained Friday. “I think, overall, the bill helps a lot of middle and lower income people get insurance and, if they have insurance, get better insurance.”

Wright’s Republican colleagues disagreed. They argued that the Democrat-designed exchange — an online marketplace for health insurance plans — would limit consumers’ and small business’ ability to choose affordable plans outside of the system.

To be fair, Wright voted against a key element of the plan before he voted for it.

An amendment offered by Rep. Mark Higley (R-Lowell) would have allowed businesses to opt out of the exchange. Wright voted in favor of the Republican amendment, which failed by a vote of 57 to 80.

“To me what [the Higley amendment] did was it spoke to concerns a lot of small business people had. I think it was worth giving them some level of comfort with this,” Wright said. “I thought that should start out being an optional choice. Even without that amendment passing, I thought [the overall bill] was a net plus.”

"Will Wright's vote help or hurt his chances in March? Why?"Post your answer below

Wright missed a vote on an earlier amendment offered by Rep. Oliver Olsen (R-Jamaica) that would have allowed businesses to opt out of the exchange if premiums became too expensive. Wright missed the vote because he was participating in a mayoral forum on the arts at the Flynn Space in Burlington and didn't expect votes at that time. He said he would have to review the language of the amendment before taking a position on it. The amendment failed by a vote of 45-88.

Wright also bucked his party yesterday by voting against an amendment that would move forward the date by which Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration would have to outline how it would finance the exchange and a proposed single-payer health care system. That amendment, which failed by a vote of 49 to 86, has become a political football in Shumlin’s re-election fight, with Republicans arguing the decision should be made before the November election.

Wright said, “Republicans wanted more information and they wanted it before the election. My understanding is there will not be accurate information before the election. It’s not going to be timely. It’s just a matter of that. Would I like it to be? Sure.”

Last year Wright voted against the creation of a panel charged with designing a single-payer health care system in Vermont.

Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson sees political motives in yesterday’s votes.

“The timing is interesting,” Perkinson said. “I'm glad Kurt voted for this much-needed health care legislation, but it is 11 days before the election and everyone in Burlington is watching. I don't think he really could have voted another way and explained it to the voters."

Wright acknowledges the political scrutiny he faces this close to the election.

“The interesting thing here is if I voted against this, people would be saying it was a Republican vote. If I voted the other way, they say he’s voting for political expediency,” he said. “So you can’t win.”

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