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Democrats back governor on health care
By Nick Shields | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

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SPRINGFIELD -- Senate Democrats reaffirmed their political allegiance to Gov. Rod Blagojevich Thursday, approving his multimillion-dollar health care expansion plan.

The ruling Democrats also pushed through legislation that would let Blagojevich spend more than $500 million now set aside in special state accounts and added more than $130 million in new spending -- including several previously cut pet projects.

The health care expansion sparked a heated partisan debate, with Republicans accusing Democrats of being irresponsible with state finances and Democrats countering that GOP members are uncaring political obstructionists.

"We cannot wait for the federal government to keep talking and saying they're going to do something," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who sponsored the health care expansion plan. "This is a pared down, small program, and it's going to help the citizens that need the help."

Blagojevich's health care expansion plan would let a family of four making upward of $85,000 without health coverage buy into a state plan. Currently the cutoff is roughly $38,000.

The governor's aides have said there are nearly 147,000 people who would qualify for the coverage. The initial expansion price tag is pegged at $43 million for this budget year. Republican critics said the full expansion could top $300 million annually if approved.

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson, of Greenville, said that while he thought the program was good for families in need, he questioned whether the new income requirements would be appropriate.

"When someone is making $85,000 a year -- a family of four -- don't they have some personal responsibilities to take care of themselves and provide for their family?" he said. "Does the government have to do everything for them?"

The health care expansion was approved 37-21 with every Democrat voting "yes" and every Republican voting "no." The measure now goes to the state House.