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Ramstad hints he’ll stick around until mental-health bill becomes law

Rep. Jim Ramstad
Rep. Jim Ramstad

The U.S. House Wednesday passed Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad’s signature piece of legislation requiring equal health-insurance coverage for people with mental illness. That move may bring Ramstad one step closer to retirement.

In a brief interview before the vote, Ramstad hinted that his departure from Congress hinges on the bill’s eventual enactment into law.

“I want to see it become law before I leave here,” he said of the bill.

Back in September, Ramstad said this term in Congress, his ninth, would be his last. The recently married Republican, who represents the western Twin Cities suburbs, said he was “burned out.” But Wednesday’s remarks are the latest in a series of strange comments since then in which Ramstad hasn’t totally, finally, unconditionally committed to stepping down at the end of the year.

I approached Ramstad in the Speaker’s Lobby, a room filled with dark, overstuffed chairs, oil portraits of somber men and glittering chandeliers adjacent to the House chamber. The press hangs out there during votes in order to nab lawmakers for quotes, but reporters can’t go on to the floor of the chamber itself.

We discussed the bill’s prospects before I asked him what House passage meant for his own future.

“I want to see this pass before I leave here Dec. 31,” he said.

When I asked what he meant, he clarified: “I want to see it become law before I leave here.

“OK?” he added. “Thanks.”

And with a smile and a pat on the shoulder, he turned and walked through the swinging doors and back onto the House floor.

Back in October, MinnPost’s Eric Black reported that Ramstad was considering unretirement, and rumors have swirled ever since.

Last month, Ramstad told the Strib: “In one capacity or another I will continue to lead the fight for people with mental illness and addiction.”

Republicans want Ramstad to stay, not least because they don’t want to spend money to defend a seat that’s safe in his hands. They face 20 other open seats nationwide, many of which are competitive or have become competitive because of incumbent retirements. 

Bill no sure thing
Though the House passed the mental health parity bill, its path to law is hardly clear. The White House immediately released a letter (PDF) in strong opposition, backing instead a Senate-passed bill.

That bill would give insurance companies wider leverage to determine what conditions would be covered. The House version relies on psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, known as the DSM-IV, to determine coverage, though it does require that the treatment be “medically necessary.”

It’s not clear whether the Senate version would meet Ramstad’s goal. The two sides have to hash out differences and come up with a final product. For some background, see our previous story on the issue. And for GOP comments today on the House bill, go here.

“I’m confident we’ll get a bill to the White House,” Ramstad said Wednesday.

But that’s basically what he’s been saying for months. “I’m confident that we’ll be able to pass a good strong bill in the House and work out some differences and get it to the president yet this year,” he told me in November.

Ramstad has until July 31 to file for reelection. There’s not a lot of time, legislatively speaking, between now and then.

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