MILWAUKEE (AP) — U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold defended his vote for health care reform during a televised debate Friday, saying his Republican challenger Ron Johnson wants to replace the program with a system that puts insurance companies in control.
Johnson, who has called the health care law an assault on personal freedoms, countered that the nation's health care system was already the finest in the world, and needed only minor tweaks to become even better.
Recent polls show Johnson with a slight lead over Feingold, who is seeking his fourth straight term. The two met in Milwaukee for the first of three debates ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
While most congressional Democrats who voted for health care reform have downplayed their support, Feingold said he was happy to help pass it.
"The big thing is, we finally get control of the insurance companies," he told reporters after the event.
Johnson has cited the passage of health care reform as the main reason he entered the race. He called the law "an incredibly expensive overreach" and said Republicans should be strategic about getting it overturned.
Instead of trying to repeal the law and facing an inevitable veto from President Barack Obama, the GOP should move to "replace and repeal," he said.
"If the Republicans take over one of the houses of Congress, they start writing the replacement bills from day one so we can show the American people, 'this is what we intend to do,'" he said. The new bills would start from tort reform, he added.
He also said he would keep the provision that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions. After all, he said, his adult daughter was born with a serious heart condition, and even now her heart is backward.
"Every voter in Wisconsin can be sure that I'll protect people with pre-existing conditions, that they will be able to maintain coverage," he said.
Feingold and Johnson will square off in their next debate Monday in Wausau.
Russ Feingold: http://www.russfeingold.org
Ron Johnson: http://www.ronjohnsonforsenate.com
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