Pryor says Bible is his compass, defends health care law


LITTLE ROCK — Continuing an emerging theme in his re-election campaign, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., referenced the Bible on Wednesday in a speech in Little Rock and in a new television ad that began airing statewide.

The second-term senator also defended the federal Affordable Care Act and said he wants to fix problems with it while his presumptive Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, wants to “roll back the clock.”

“When I think about (gridlock in Washington), I think about one passage out of the Scriptures that I wish we’d all take to heart in Washington, and it’s out of Isaiah 1:18 and it says, ‘Come, let us reason together.’ That’s really missing in Washington right now,” Pryor told the Political Animals Club.

In the new 30-second ad, Pryor is seen holding a Bible and discussing its importance to him.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his word,” he says in the ad. “The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right. This is my compass. My North Star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas. I’m Mark Pryor, and I approve this message because this is who I am, and what I believe.”

Pryor also referenced the Bible in a Nov. 1 speech to Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities, saying then, “The one thing that’ll fix the problems we have in Washington is the teachings of Jesus.”

Much of Pryor’s talk to the Political Animals Club on Wednesday was devoted to touting his record of working with Republicans, on issues such as resolving the October government shutdown, and contrasting it with Cotton’s approach, which he said contributed to the shutdown.

“I work with others to try to be a problem solver, and he’s ‘my way or the highway,’” Pryor said.

Cotton spokesman David Ray said Wednesday of Pryor, “If he’s so bipartisan, why has he voted with President Obama 95 percent of the time?”

Discussing the federal Affordable Care Act, Pryor said the law will help rural hospitals remain open by reducing uncompensated care and will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He praised the Arkansas Legislature for passing the so-called “private option,” its plan to use federal Medicaid money to subsidize private insurance for low-income workers, saying 70,000 previously uninsured Arkansans have already signed up for the program.

Cotton would do away with those gains, Pryor said.

Acknowledging that the law is “far from perfect,” Pryor said he has consistently supported making fixes to it, including supporting legislation that would allow people who bought insurance in the individual market after the law took effect to keep their plans even if the plans do not comply with new requirements that take effect under the law next year.

Cotton’s campaign has argued that Pryor helped to cause the problem of insurance cancellations by voting in 2010 against a Republican-backed proposal that sought to block implementation of a rule requiring cancellation of some plans bought in the individual market.

Asked Wednesday about that vote, Pryor told reporters, “I do remember that there were a lot of other things included in there. You run into this sometimes, where maybe you like one idea in something but they put a bunch of other stuff in there that makes it to where it’s something I couldn’t vote for.”

He said he was not aware at the time that some people would lose their insurance.

Ray disputed that statement Wednesday, saying Republicans were clear in their warnings about the issue years ago. He cited examples including a news release issued by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in September 2010 warning that the rule the GOP sought to block “breaks the president’s promise that ‘if you like what you have you can keep it.’”

“It’s not credible to believe (Pryor) just now found out that this would happen when he voted in 2010 for the rule that causes these cancellations. Did he not read what he voted on? Or is he just misleading Arkansans again?” Ray said.

The general election will be Nov. 4, 2014.