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Edwards’ big promises meet heavy skepticism

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Times Staff Writer

John Edwards, who has pledged that as president he would strip health coverage from congressional members if they did not adopt universal healthcare, faced sharp voter skepticism Sunday over whether he could achieve that and other campaign goals.

On the first day of a two-day drive around iced-over north-central Iowa, Edwards was asked by 62-year-old retired teacher John Nordman whether it was “credible” for Edwards to say that as president, he would have the power to strip Congress of its health coverage.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, acknowledged that he could not do it unilaterally and would have to use political pressure to force Congress to act. It could be done by submitting a bill forcing members to either vote for universal healthcare or lose their own coverage -- a measure that would target Republicans because, he said, all Democrats would support it.

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“I want to see a Republican senator or congressman take the position that they’re going to defend their healthcare and vote against healthcare for their constituents,” Edwards said. “I will make sure every voter in their state knows they are protecting themselves against the interests of the people that they represent. I’m telling you, this will work.”

Edwards also often refers to the political power of insurance and pharmaceutical companies in defeating President Clinton’s first-term healthcare initiative. Edwards was challenged Sunday on whether he could cut into that power if he became president.

Edwards has said before that he would work to curb the influence of lobbyists, end a revolving door between the private sector and regulatory agencies, and take other steps. But he skipped over those specifics Sunday to push the broader theme.

“We have to be willing to take it on. We have to be willing to shake it up,” Edwards said, arguing that nominating a candidate who is part of the Washington power structure -- a clear reference to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- would not shift power in the capital from corporations to individuals. “If you’re sitting at a table negotiating with drug companies about universal healthcare, you’ve already lost. It’s not the job of the president of the United States to negotiate away what the American people need because these people have money.”

The questions came a day after Democratic rival Christopher J. Dodd, a senator from Connecticut, challenged Edwards in the Des Moines Black & Brown Forum to reconcile his anti-poverty campaign with his Senate vote for the 2001 Bankruptcy Reform Act, which Dodd said had hurt poor Americans. Edwards said the vote was wrong and told reporters Sunday that it was one weak spot in a career spent fighting for the weak against the powerful.

“I voted hundreds of times in the interests of poor people,” said Edwards.

“If you look at anybody’s record you’ll be able to flyspeck one thing here or there. My life work makes absolutely clear what I’m committed to.”

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scott.martelle@latimes.com

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