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Answering to Arkansas 

Last month, I joined my Democratic colleagues at the White House to witness the President sign health insurance reform into law. The President said, “The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see.” It was a great day for Arkansas. For me personally, it marked the end of a two-year debate and was the high point of a public career spent trying to reform health care.

Since that time, my Republican opponents and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have worked overtime churning out press releases calling me an “enemy of the people” and a “traitor to the Constitution” because of my support for health care reform.

At the same time, my primary opponent and one of his chief sponsors, MoveOn.org, have been spewing e-mails and phone calls to Arkansas Democrats calling me “shameful” and saying that I tried to kill health insurance reform.

You would have to rewrite history to prove that I opposed health insurance reform. President Obama wholeheartedly endorsed it and I voted for it last year. I have the battle scars to prove it.

I am proud of my work and have had enough of outside groups trying to tell Arkansans what we should think.

Throughout my public service, I have fought for health insurance reform that helps Arkansas's small businesses, working families and children.

I helped shape the Senate health care plan that became law so that it directly benefits a small, rural state like Arkansas. Eight Arkansas hospitals will be protected from Medicare reimbursement cuts because of the amendment I successfully included.

The new law makes 50,000 Arkansas small businesses with 260,000 employees eligible for a tax credit I wrote when they purchase coverage for their workers. I believe employers should be able to invest in their own companies rather than continue to pay annual premium increases to insurance companies.

Immediately, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for a pre-existing condition to 710,000 Arkansas children. Arkansans will no longer be dropped by their insurance companies should they become sick.

More than 260,000 young adults in Arkansas can remain on their parents' health insurance plans for two additional years, until they are 26.

Arkansas's 500,000 seniors are assured that any savings that come from Medicare will not result in reductions to their guaranteed Medicare benefits, and many will see savings from our work reducing the doughnut hole.

Those who say we can't afford the new law should know it will reduce the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

We can haggle about the changes to the new law that were approved by the House and Senate in a process called Budget Reconciliation, but Senator Mark Pryor and I opposed those changes for very good reasons.

It doesn't detract from my commitment, or Senator Pryor's, to ensure that implementation of the new law helps Arkansas.

After all, it is Arkansans that I answer to, not any of these outside groups who misrepresent my record on health care reform.

Max Brantley invited the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate to contribute columns on subjects of their choice while he's on vacation. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter wrote last week.

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