Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is still a "no" vote on President Barack Obama's health care reform plan, despite consistent pressure from White House and Democratic leadership in Congress, a spokesman for the congresswoman said Wednesday.

"There's been pretty constant and strong pressure here for a while. We feel it every day," deputy chief of staff Russ Levsen said. "That's part of being in the majority and being one of 39 House Democrats to vote against the health care bill last November."

Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., received a call from Obama prior to the House vote on a health care reform bill last fall. Nonetheless, she joined 38 other Democrats in voting against the plan, which barely won approval in the House.

The president hasn't called lately. But Herseth Sandlin and her staff said they hear regularly from the administration and Democratic leadership in Congress encouraging her to support the latest version of the plan, a developing blend from the House, Senate and White House.

Herseth Sandlin said health care insurance needs reform, especially in ways to prevent insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing medical conditions or dropping coverage when someone becomes ill. But she has criticized the House and Senate versions of health care reform for failing to sufficiently control costs and improve Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Herseth Sandlin also has said that she won't vote for anything that comes to the House by way of reconciliation in the Senate. The reconciliation process requires a simple Senate majority instead of 60 votes, and is expected to be part of the process.

So South Dakota's only House member remains opposed to the reform package on the basis of content and process. Levsen said that makes her less likely to get the intense pressure that might be applied to House members more likely to switch votes.

"She's been clear on this, I think, and they understand where she is," he said.

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Judy Olson Duhamel of Rapid City, a former chairwoman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said Herseth Sandlin isn't easily swayed by political pressure.

"When she comes down with a decision on how to vote, it's never made lightly. She goes through a process that involves research, all kinds of advice and her own conscience," Duhamel said. "I don't think she's ever been a person who yields to pressure."

 

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

 

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