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Lunch with Pete Stark

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 at 6:30 pm in General, Pete Stark, U.S. House.

Every year or two, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, sits down to lunch with reporters in his district for a chat; we broke bread today at Paradiso in San Leandro.

Stark held one of his monthly town-hall meetings Monday night in Fremont, and he has another tonight in San Leandro. Constituents aren’t happy that we still have troops in Iraq, he said, or about all the money that’s getting funneled to Wall Street to bail out the banking system. Stark, an outspoken opponent both of the war and of the bailout, said he’s telling them “I didn’t vote for it … Talk to the other guys.”

I told him I’m working on a story about bipartisanship (probably coming in this Sunday’s editions), and Stark, 77, promptly whipped out an iPhone to read some words of praise he received from the Alameda County Republican Party for having opposed the banking bailout; the local GOP also urged him to sign onto Rep. Ron Paul’s HR 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009, which he did. “How about that for bipartisanship?,” he laughed, adding he feels as if he should put the GOP’s rare praise for him on a billboard somewhere in the district.

More after the jump…

Stark said he’s happy with what the economic recovery package will be bringing to his 13th Congressional District: “We’ve got some fairly good money for schools and hospitals in the bill – not nearly enough, but it’s better than a kick in the butt.” He chairs the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid, so we talked a bit about how patients, doctors and hospitals relying on MediCal are in a world of hurt due to low, late reimbursements, and he replied that acute-care services often suffer the most because they don’t have the lobbying juice that nursing homes and extended-care facilities can muster.

He said Congress is committed to having a health care bill ready for a vote by September – after a summer full of markups, presumably. “Thus far we’re all pretty much in sync with the Obama team, there are no major difficulties,” Stark said, though the finished product might look more like what U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is crafting in the Senate than what he himself would prefer. “My guess is that’s where we end up… but it’s better than no bill at all.” Though “less encompassing than many of us would like,” it’ll be “a major step toward universal coverage,” he predicted.

We talked about the spate of mass murders the nation has seen in recent weeks, including the slayings of four Oakland Police officers. Some say such cases are reinvigorating efforts to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, but Stark said he doesn’t believe that’ll happen this year. “Where would it get us?” he asked, noting that such a hot-button debate – in which dozens of generally non-urban Democrats would side with Republicans against reinstating the ban – would bog down Congress when “we’ve got a lot to do” on other issues.

Stark said President Barack Obama has done a good job of laying out an ambitious agenda for education, jobs, energy, health care and other major policy areas, but “you can’t do all of that in 100 days.” I guess after 36 years in Congress, he’s accustomed to taking the long view.

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