Va. Democrat On Health Vote, Re-Election Prospects

Sunday night's health care vote will be a key factor in elections this November. And one of the top targets is freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, who represents Virginia's 5th district. Melissa Block speaks to Perriello about his "yes" vote on health care and what it will mean for re-election in November.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Last night's health-care vote will be a key factor in this November's elections. And one of the top Republican targets is freshman Democratic congressman Tom Perriello. He represents Virginia's 5th District. That's a big stretch of the southern part of the state that includes Charlottesville, and he was a yes vote last night on the health-care bill.

Congressman Perriello joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program.

Representative TOM PERRIELLO (Democrat, Virginia): Thank you for having me on this historic day.

BLOCK: And congressman, you were a yes vote also back in November, but you hadn't said how you were going to vote this time until the night before the vote. Were you an undecided vote leading up right 'til the night before the vote this time?

Rep. PERRIELLO: No, I wasn't on undecided on the eve. I wanted to see the proposal from the president in detail and read through it earlier this week, and wasn't going to make up my mind before I saw that. And I also insisted on a letter from the Senate saying they were going to take up their part of this bill, that that would mean getting rid of the cornhusker kickback and the special deals for Florida.

I think people were right to be furious about those. I was furious about them. And some people go in and ask for kickbacks. I guess I went in and asked to make sure we got rid of them. And we are going to have to keep an eye on the Senate this week and make sure they see this thing through to completion.

BLOCK: What are you hearing today from the folks back in your district?

Rep. PERRIELLO: You know, I think there's a deep sense of relief that it's done, from a lot of folks. You know, we've really had the whole spectrum. We have those who've been very ideologically against this on principle; those who've been really for it, not matter what; and a lot of pragmatists in the middle who've really just said, hey, if this is going to save me money and reduce my out-of-pocket expenses and premiums, then bring it on. And if it's not, go away.

And I think people felt like we got there, at the end of the day, to something that's going to create the kind of competition and accountability. But you also just had a lot of fear under the status quo, that people were one pink slip away from losing their insurance for themselves and their families. And that's a very terrifying place to be.

BLOCK: I know, congressman, that you've been targeted by Tea Party activists in your district. They had planned to burn you in effigy last year after your first yes vote on health care. How active are they, do you think? And how active will they be, heading into November?

Rep. PERRIELLO: They're very active. We have, actually, several different Tea Party movements in my district. And you know, I think there's a lot of soul searching there of what that movement is going to be about. But we've certainly talked to them and agree with them on many issues, like fiscal responsibility -and disagree strongly on, on some others.

BLOCK: Let's look ahead to November, congressman Perriello. You were in your first term, as we mentioned. You squeaked by in 2008. You won by about 700 votes, defeating a longtime incumbent, Virgil Goode. And you won in a district that went for John McCain, actually, not Barack Obama. Do you think this health-care vote will come back to haunt you in November could cost you the election?

Rep. PERRIELLO: Well, first of all, I think the number one issue in the election, the number one issue in people's minds is the economy. I think that we've taken some bold actions to prevent a depression and that's really important, but we need to keep our eye on the ball there in terms of job growth. We have a summer building season coming up where there's so much that can be done, and I really do think we need to put a lot more behind that.

In terms of the health-care vote, you know, I think it's a wait-and-see thing on that, but I think people like us to produce results. They like us to deliver on what we promised in the campaign. And health-care reform was certainly at the center of not just my campaign, but the campaigns of many Democrats.

So, I think people appreciate being true to your word on those sorts of things. And when they see, first of all, that the Armageddon described by the Republicans fails to come to pass, but also start to see all of the positive impacts, I think it's going to be a good thing.

BLOCK: You know, I wonder, as you headed into this vote last night, was in some part of your mind, was the scenario playing out, this vote may well cost me my seat in Congress, but I think it's the right thing to do?

Rep. PERRIELLO: Sure. You know, you think about those things, but first and foremost, you want to think about whether it's the right thing to do. And I felt very strongly that this was the right thing to do and the rest of it's just politics, so - for me. You know, after 14 months of trying to work through to the best bill we could, we came up with it, and we've succeeded where so many before have failed.

BLOCK: Well, congressman Perriello, it's good to talk to you. Thank you.

Rep. PERRIELLO: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: That's Democratic congressman Tom Perriello of Virginia.

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