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Franken says imperfect health care plan can be fixed

FARGO -- North Dakota and Minnesota politicians and lobbying groups offered varying reactions Thursday to President Obama's State of the Union mention of the controversial health care reform legislation being considered by Congress.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., advocated strongly for the passage of the Senate's health care reform bill during a speech Thursday morning at the Families USA Health Action 2010 conference in Washington.

"I'm hopeful the American people recognize that 'no' doesn't come close to cutting it as a solution to our health care challenges," Franken said in prepared remarks.

He called the Senate bill "a very good foundation upon which to build" and said it would be better to pass that legislation and fix it later, than to pass nothing at all.

"Big pieces of legislation often need to be fixed and improved after passage. Health care would be no different," Franken said. "But we have to stop letting the 'perfect' - and everyone has different definitions of 'perfect' - be the enemy of the 'very good.' "

North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan took a more cautious approach, calling Obama's shift in emphasis from health care reform to job creation "instructive."

"The American people have said, 'Wait a second, we're concerned about what we're hearing and reading about it,' " Dorgan said of health care legislation. "So at the moment, I think this is a period of pause and assessment of what might be saved from that (and) what kinds of things might garner support."

Locally, North Dakota employer organizations and the state Campaign for Responsible Health Reform had a different message on health care for Congress: Start over.

"The partisan deal-making and closed-door negotiations pursued as part of this process have produced irresponsible, costly legislation and squandered broad initial support for reforming our health system," said Dustin Gawrylow, executive director of the North Dakota Taxpayers' Association.

"The good news is that we still have an opportunity to start over and work together on responsible, bipartisan reform that achieves the shared goals of greater affordability and access, without higher taxes and job-killing mandates on employees," Gawrylow added.

The Campaign for Responsible Health Reform is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent the second highest amount of broadcast advertising dollars in North Dakota last year opposing health care reform and a government-run insurance option.