I called Democratic Congressman Jim Marshall who represents Georgia's 8th Congressional District in Middle Georgia to check the status of health care reform currently lurching its way through Congress.
I know what is being proposed. What I wanted to know was if this hydra-headed monster has a chance of passage. I had been told he was one person in Washington who would not give me the party line on this controversial issue. He would tell it like it is.
And he did.
Marshall doesn't mince words as befits a former Airborne Ranger platoon sergeant in Vietnam, the holder of two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart and who is a member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
"I think there is going to be some kind of health care reform," he said, "but the question is whether we can expand access for our citizens without bankrupting the country. As the bill stands right now, I would have to vote ‘no' until we get a better handle on the costs. I am adamantly opposed to throwing more money at the current system."
Remember, this guy is a Democrat.
Marshall is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats, described as the "moderate to conservative branch" of the party. However, he is quick to add that he is not in lockstep with everything the Blue Dogs do and was not happy that four of the seven members of the group voted with Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, even though they whacked over $100 billion out of a bill that by some estimates could cost as much as $1.5 trillion.
"I would not have struck a deal," Marshall said and pointed out that his colleague and fellow Blue Dog, John Barrow, of Georgia's 12th District voted "no" to the committee compromise. "We can still get a fiscally better bill than what we have now," he says.
President Barack Obama originally wanted health care legislation on his desk before the summer recess and that didn't happen, of course. Had he asked, I would have told him he had a better chance of stuffing a hippopotamus through a keyhole. Health reform is too complicated and has too many major players with too much influence to move legislation quickly in Washington.
Now, the issue will simmer throughout the summer and give opponents and proponents a chance to slice and dice it before Congress gets back to business this fall.
What does Marshall expect to hear from his constituents over the recess? "I think most constituents are very much in favor of some kind of reform," the congressman says, "They know the current system is way too inefficient and the outcomes are too poor."
He says he is hearing mainly from "self-selectors," a novel way of describing those that have a big dog in the health care fight: the medical community, business groups, insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals.
"It is interesting that when these groups are pressed, they can immediately and voluntarily identify savings that can be made." he says. "That tells me there still a lot more savings yet to be had in cutting health care costs."
Marshall pointed out one of the primary reasons health care is broken in this country: Look in the mirror. It is us.
"Frankly, we Americans don't have good health habits. Obesity and diabetes are becoming major health issues in our society," he says, "and our current health care model encourages more services and more costs. If we took better care of ourselves, we could better control health care costs."
You probably didn't want to hear that part.
The congressman had to excuse himself to go vote, but I had talked to him long enough to know that the Democrats don't have Marshall's vote yet and are going to have to earn it.
I also have the feeling that whether you live in Richmond Hill or Sugar Hill or Tunnel Hill, you might want to remember the name, Jim Marshall. I don't think we have heard the last of this conservative, straight-shooting, decorated Army Ranger who marches to his own drum. He is a breath of fresh air in an arid political environment.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; Web site, www.dickyarbrough.com.