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Health care debate rages as lawmakers take break
By Joseph Ryan and Alissa Groeninger | Daily Herald Staff

Suburban residents gather Tuesday at Countryside Church in Palatine to board a bus to Chicago for a rally supporting President Obama's health care expansion.


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Tom MacTavish of Inverness signs in with Valerie Ihara of Palatine, as a suburbanites gather Tuesday at Countryside Church in Palatine to board a bus to Chicago for a rally supporting President Obama's health care expansion.


Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/5/2009 12:00 AM | Updated: 8/20/2009 8:54 AM

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Cindy Anderson of Buffalo Grove says her health insurance rates have tripled in the last three years.

Her mother in Phoenix, who suffered a stroke 13 years ago and has diabetes, is too young for Medicare and has been unable to get health coverage since her employer shut down.

"She's worked all her life," said Anderson. "She ought to have health care."

At the other end of the spectrum, Nancy Baron of Elk Grove Village is a teacher with good health insurance. But she is angry for those with bad coverage or no coverage.

"Health care is a right, not a privilege," she said.

Anderson and Baron were among more than two dozen Northwest suburbanites who took a school bus Tuesday from Palatine to add their voices to hundreds rallying in Chicago for President Barack Obama's government-run health insurance proposal.

"The real silver bullet in this battle is you," U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, told the scores in Chicago's Federal Plaza.

The rally, attended by several other prominent Democrats and reform advocates, is one of the more outward signs of the aggressive lobbying that is now consuming a summer break for lawmakers as Obama's health care plan teeters.

The efforts are aimed at trying to regain an edge in the public debate while focusing pressure on fence-sitting lawmakers, particularly Democrats.

Opponents are making an equally strong effort to defeat one of the most formidable attempts in decades to offer public health care coverage to everyone.

Schakowsky conceded after her speech Tuesday that expansion backers may be losing public support. She sees this monthlong break as a chance to win back independents.

"I am concerned that they've spent lots and lots of effort and money to try to fool the people once again," she said of opponents, including insurance companies. "Let this mark the first day of our summer offensive to win real health care reform in the fall."

The pressure is acutely felt in the suburbs, where Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant to embrace the plan and Republicans are aggressively opposing it.

Absent from Tuesday's rally was U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean of Barrington and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Batavia, both Democrats on the fence.

Bean's Schaumburg office has been protested by activists on both sides of the issue. Most recently, she said she was "unconvinced" the current plan will provide a net benefit to the middle class while reigning in costs.

Foster supports the plan "in theory," a spokeswoman has said, but neither lawmaker will likely face a vote until some version of the plan moves to the House floor this fall.

Meanwhile, GOP representatives Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Don Manzullo of the Rockford area, Judy Biggert of Hinsdale and Mark Kirk of Highland Park have been vocal opponents, raising the specter of a government-run health care system that will ration treatment and hike taxes.

Kirk is running for Obama's old Senate seat.

Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is running for that spot on the Democratic side. He helped lead the health care rally Tuesday.

"At the end of the day, something needs to get done," Giannoulias said after giving his speech.

Also among the politicians at the rally was Gov. Pat Quinn, who apparently supports the plan even though some versions could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the beleaguered state budget.

He has been pushing an income tax to patch an $11 billion budget hole.

"This is long overdue," he told the crowd.

On Capitol Hill, versions of Obama's plan have been approved by House committees, but more work is needed to get a preliminary version to the floor for a full vote. The House is on a break until Sept. 8.

A Senate committee is continuing work on a separate version of the measure. The Senate is scheduled for a break from Aug. 10 to Sept. 8.

Obama is pushing for final passage by the end of the year.

• Daily Herald reporter Ted Cox contributed to this report.