To many, declaration not surprising

By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Staff / March 19, 2010

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Representative Stephen F. Lynch’s declaration yesterday that he will vote against a bill to overhaul national health care came as no surprise to those familiar with his deliberations. He has sent signals to some labor leaders recently that he intended to oppose the legislation and had agonized before voting last November in favor of a more expansive House version, one Lynch adviser said yesterday.

The South Boston Democrat determined the current bill, closely paralleling a version passed by the Senate in December, was inferior and would not be good for his district, said the adviser who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.

Another adviser, Steve Murphy, Lynch’s longtime Washington-based media strategist, said Lynch’s decision is not inconsistent with his vote last fall in favor of a different version.

“It lets the insurance industry keep on doing what it’s been doing, and it taxes health benefits, forcing workers to pay for the sins of the insurance industry,’’ Murphy said, referring to the Senate version that would generate revenue by imposing a surcharge on “Cadillac’’ health plans.

Lynch, an abortion opponent, did not cite the bill’s abortion language as a factor. The Senate bill’s language placing limits on abortions under federally subsidized plans is less restrictive than the House bill Lynch backed last year.

Both advisers said political considerations back home were not a factor. Lynch, who was elected in a 2001 special election, has never faced serious opposition in the Ninth Congressional District, which includes part of Boston and extends south to Brockton and Bridgewater and west to Needham and Medfield.

This year, Republican Keith Lepor and Philip Dunkelbarger, an independent, have announced they will challenge Lynch in November. In 2006, Lynch brushed aside a Dunkelbarger challenge in the Democratic primary, drawing 77 percent of the vote.

Dunkelbarger yesterday criticized Lynch’s decision, citing the congressman’s support last fall for a different version of the bill. “Either the incumbent is very confused about where he stands or his decision to vote no is a crass political decision to be all things to all people,’’ he said. Dunkelbarger, who is proposing a 10 percent cut in federal spending, nevertheless said he would have voted for the bill.

Lepor could not be reached for comment.

Lynch’s reservations about overhauling health care were a factor in his decision not to join the Democratic field in the special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Edward M. Kennedy. Despite heavy pressure from organized labor leaders, he refused to endorse a national public option that would create a government-run program to compete with private insurers as a way of reducing costs. The other four Democrats in the race backed a public option, and Lynch, a former leader of the ironworkers union, withdrew from contention in short order.

Lynch is the most conservative member of the Bay State’s all-Democrat 10-member House delegation and he is something of a lone wolf within that group. He can be immovable in the face of pressure and has demonstrated the ability to resist House leadership and heavy lobbying by his allies in organized labor.

Tim Sullivan, spokesman for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said Lynch has been contacted by many state labor leaders, and they will continue to try to change his mind.

“The health care bill has been a top priority of the labor movement, and there have been a lot of bumps along the way,’’ Sullivan said. “This is the first step, and we’ve decided it’s better to take the step than not.’’

Lynch won a tough four-way Democratic special primary in 2001 by rolling up big margins in the conservative precincts of the district. Three Bay State political observers surveyed by the Globe said they doubt Lynch’s opposition to the bill will hurt him in the district.

Yesterday Lynch brushed aside a question from a reporter about whether he was considering a challenge to Republican Scott Brown, another opponent of the health care legislation, when Brown completes Kennedy’s term in 2012.