rice.JPG[Please welcome back Andrew Rice to FDL's Blue America.  As always, please stay on topic and be polite to our guest -- substantive discussion related to today's topic or to Andrew's candidacy is always welcome, but any off-topic chatter should be taken to the prior thread.  Welcome, Andrew! -- CHS]

Most political observers envision a pending disaster for the GOP in the U.S. Senate in November. It is likely that current Republican held seats in Virginia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Colorado and Minnesota will fall to Democrats with a decent chance that Maine and Oregon could also flip and there are long, though not unrealistic, shots in Texas, Nebraska and North Carolina. The GOP firewall between a mere disaster and a crippling catastrophe is Oklahoma, a deep red conservative-identified state where, at least in theory, Republicans shouldn’t have to worry. This year they are worrying.

If you were with us on October 6 of last year when Blue America endorsed State Senator Andrew Rice, you already know why the Oklahoma GOP is nervous– and why Oklahoma Democrats are feeling a little giddy.

When we asked Andrew to come by and chat at Firedoglake again this weekend, it was specifically about the health care debate raging in the Oklahoma legislature. As co-chair of the state Senate’s health care committee, Andrew is leading the battle against the predictably pro-corporate/anti-patient Republican onslaught. Basically the lower house has passed a bill that prohibits Oklahoma’s state government from giving any mandates to insurance companies and conservatives are digging in their heals on this and twisting the issues around to make it sound like Democrats are trying to raise health care costs. This is how Andrew framed the real issue when we spoke 3 days ago:

"There are two main issues with health care right now– one is the problem with no coverage. In the system we have now, obviously many Americans cannot afford private insurance. Often there is only a thin line, or a couple thousand dollars’ of income difference, between people who get no help from the government, and those who do. It is both a moral imperative and fiscally responsible to provide basic health coverage for all Americans. It is a win-win for our country: people get health care, and we save more money overall. What the far right seems unwilling to accept is that not covering people is the biggest driver of increasing health care costs in this country. The taxpayers eventually all end up paying for health care anyway, we might as well cover people up front, and save ourselves and small businesses a lot more money on the back end, then ignore the problem and see hospitals bleed money in the red, and see our friends and families declare for bankruptcy.

"The second issue is the one my bill addresses, and what the movie Sicko focuses on. For people who are able to afford private insurance, the coverage they get is often less complete than what Medicaid and Medicare cover. These are people who shell out their hard-earned money to buy a product (health insurance), but the companies they buy the product from often find ways to not make good on their end of the bargain (and of course it is not a bargain). Ironically, in Oklahoma government programs cover clinical trials for cancer treatment, but most private insurers do not. When hard work is not rewarded– when it can, in fact, leave you riddled with debt because of an insurance company’s whim– something is not right. My bill is addressing this injustice to American consumers and working families."

Although I still hope we can discuss health care solutions with Andrew today, another issue has risen it’s head in Oklahoma again, an issue as powerful for Andrew as health care: Iraq. The other far right Oklahoma Republican senator, Tom Coburn, just admitted– to Inhofe’s shock and horror– that Bush’s war in Iraq was a bad idea and a mistake. This is coming from a complete rubber stamp. I don’t think Coburn is likely to campaign for Andrew, but he’s done Inhofe a lot of damage this week.