- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2010

FAIRFAX, Va. | Freshman Democrat Gerry Connolly is among the handful of people who will decide the fate of President Obama’s health-care package when it comes to a vote this Sunday.

Connolly is among those Democrats who have not yet committed to supporting the current bill, even though he voted for it when it narrowly passed the House last year.

So you might think that Obama, who canceled a trip to Indonesia to help shepherd passage of a bill that could determine the fate of his presidency, would be hounding Connolly with daily phone calls trying to twist his arm. But Connolly said Friday he hasn’t heard a peep from the Obama administration on health care.

“I hope that means he’s out twisting other arms,” Connolly said in an interview Friday afternoon. Asked if he’s concerned that Obama is taking for granted the votes of those who supported the initial bill, Connolly paused and said, “I hope that’s not the case.”

Obama is certainly not neglecting Connolly’s district. The president drew more than 6,000 to George Mason University Friday, in the heart of Connolly’s district, to a rally in support of health-care reform.

But Connolly wasn’t there, instead attending a longstanding annual fundraiser that had been scheduled.

Connolly took great pains Friday to say that his absence should not be perceived as a snub of Obama or a decision to distance himself from the president.

“This is a district that has a lot of respect for the office of the presidency,” Connolly said. “It always helps” to have the president come and make his case personally.

While Connolly was absent from Obama’s rally Friday, the two Republicans who are lining up to race against him were there, along with hundreds of protesters.

“I think Connolly is misreading the true feelings of the 11th Congressional District and our country,” said Pat Herrity, a Republican member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “People are really upset.”

Keith Fimian, who ran against Connolly in 2008 and lost, said “Connolly’s got a big decision to make. He voted ‘yes’ the first time around, and now he’s thinking about voting ‘no’ because he’s worried about his political future.”

For his part, Connolly said he believes his district is evenly divided in its support for the bill. And while Connolly clearly wants to vote for health-care reform, he said he needs to review the legislation to ensure it will be effective in its goals of extending coverage to the uninsured and reducing the deficit before he’ll commit to supporting it.

Politically, the bill presents some unusually difficult choices for Connolly. He represents the wealthiest congressional district in America, and the bill is paid for in part by taxes on the wealthy.

“That doesn’t make it any easier” to support, Connolly said of the taxes on wages higher than $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples. But Connolly said he believes the district will be willing to pay for the bill if it actually does what it’s supposed to do.

Connolly represents a swing district that, prior to his election, was represented for more than a decade by a moderate Republican, Tom Davis.

Obama has held a series of health-care rallies in swing districts and swing states, and has lobbied congressmen in those districts. Liberal Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, changed his mind and decided to support the bill after Obama held a rally in Kucinich’s district and called Kucinich from Air Force One to twist his arm.

At Friday’s rally, Obama said the media has been too focused on the political ramifications of the bill. “I don’t know how this plays politically. Nobody really does,” Obama said.

Connolly said he is not oblivious to the politics of the legislation and to how Sunday’s vote will affect Obama’s presidency. But he said anybody who’s looking for an easy political solution in deciding how to vote is wasting their time.

“I think any way you vote you’re going to come to grief,” Connolly said. “You’re going to make half the world unhappy.”

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