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McCaskill praises Baucus, breaks with Obama -- sort of -- on missile defense

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2009 - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has a reputation as one of President Barack Obama's biggest fans in the Senate.

But this week, she appeared to flex her independent muscles -- just a little.

First, she was among a small bipartisan group of four senators, including one Republican, who signed a letter offering some praise to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for the healthcare plan he presented this week to the Finance Committee that he chairs.

But in a later letter sent out Thursday, McCaskill joined another Democratic group in calling for more action to cut healthcare costs.

Also Thursday, McCaskill issued a statement raising concerns about Obama's decision to scuttle a missile defense system to be installed in Eastern Europe.

On the healthcare front, McCaskill appeared to break -- somewhat -- from many Democrats who say Baucus' proposal fails to reflect Obama's preferred approach because it fails to include a public option and also includes some taxes that could primarily hit middle-class workers with job-provided insurance.

In the first letter, McCaskill, fellow Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska, independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine wrote:

"...While we each have outstanding concerns we wish to see addressed, Senator Baucus has taken an important and critical step forward with this legislation, which is budget neutral and reduces future health care costs according to CBO. We will continue to work together in the full Senate on bipartisan health care reform that reduces costs, improves care, and expands access.”

The second letter, sent out later Thursday, was signed by McCaskill and fellow Democrats Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mark Pryor and Mark Begich of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. It said, in part:

"...The rapid growth in health spending impacts every American family, every business, as well as our government, and we must consider every option to reduce its ever growing burden. Problems in both private and government health care systems are rooted in these high costs, including our high rate of uninsured Americans and the future solvency of Medicare. Despite past efforts in Congress to lower the rise in health care expenditures, costs continue to skyrocket..."

On the missile defense matter, McCaskill seemed to take a stance between the Republicans blasting Obama's decision and the Democrats lauding it.

Obama announced Thursday that he was dropping the Bush administration's plan for a missile-defense setup in the Czech Republic and Poland. (Russia opposed the system.)

Instead, Obama is calling for more U.S. military presence in the surrounding waters and elsewhere.

Said McCaskill in her statement:

“I am concerned about the Administration’s abrupt decision today to cancel the long-planned missile defense deployment to two important allies, the Czech Republic and Poland.

"In July, the Senate unanimously adopted the Lieberman-Sessions amendment that stated that the U.S. missile defense system in Europe should be capable of protecting the United States and Europe . I urge the Administration to explain to the American people and our European allies why this decision is in the best interest of our collective security against the Iranian threat – right now we have been given too little information to be sure that this is the best path forward.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.