U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) believes that the Affordable Care Act has been more of a blessing than a burden on the people of Arkansas and the rest of the nation since it went into effect in January.

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) believes that the Affordable Care Act has been more of a blessing than a burden on the people of Arkansas and the rest of the nation since it went into effect in January.

Pryor visited The Commercial on Friday afternoon to answer a wide array of questions as he campaigns for re-election against freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Dardanelle).

"With large pieces of legislation like this if you get 80 percent of it right then you are doing well," Pryor said. "I think that there have been significant changes for the good since the ACA went into effect. There are thousands of Arkansans who have signed up for health care for the first time on the exchanges and we have 102,000 people signed up so far through Medicaid as part of the private option."

"Yes, on balance I think that would be a yes," Pryor said when asked if he would vote again for the ACA.

Pryor used this point to put some separation between himself and his GOP opponent.

"Congressman Cotton has voted repeatedly to repeal Obamacare and since the private option only exists because of the Affordable Care Act, a repeal would mean that those 102,000 would be thrown off of the health insurance that they just got," Pryor said.

Pryor said another benefit of the ACA is its requirement that insurance companies cease the practice of dropping people from health insurance coverage when they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

"Before the ACA went into effect insurance companies would happily take your premium payments every month but if you ended up with a diagnosis of cancer they could drop you," Pryor said. "For many people it was a case of being one diagnosis away from financial ruin."

Farm Bill

Pryor said the recent passage of the 2014 Farm Bill was a work of bipartisanship and noted that Cotton voted against the measure in the House of Representatives.

"The passage of the Farm Bill will give our farmers and their families five years of predictability," Pryor said. "This is of key importance for rural families. There is no excuse for playing ideological games that negatively affect these people."

Pryor said Cotton’s determination to separate the food stamp component of an earlier, failed version of the Farm Bill from the farming component was ultimately fruitless and would have endangered the health of those who depend on the national food stamp program.

"Most of the people in D. C. take agriculture for granted but the fact is that nobody in the world does agriculture as well as we do in the United States," Pryor said.

Key differences

"Voters have a very clear choice in November," Pryor said. "I’ve been in Washington for nearly 12 years and the people of Arkansas know that when I say Arkansas comes first, I mean it. I’ve never been flashy or tried to be seen on television. I just work hard for the people of this state."

Pryor said he believes his role as a U.S. senator is to be bipartisan and constructive.

"In my time as a senator I have passed 70 pieces of legislation into law and almost all of them have been bipartisan," Pryor said. "Over and over voters will see the contrast between me and him [Cotton]. He’s not listening to the people of Arkansas. He’s listening to special moneyed interests."

Pryor said the needs of his constituents trump any sense of duty to vote in tune with national Democratic politics.

"I represent the people of Arkansas," Pryor said. "I am not in Washington to be seen at press conferences. I am there to work for my constituents. I love to get out and talk with and listen to people. I go all over the state and time and time again I will have people say that they are a Republican but that they are for me. They tell me that they are so frustrated with the lack of any action in Washington. If you let one group hijack the process then nothing gets done. At some point you’ve got to govern."

Cotton’s campaign has contended that Pryor often votes in lockstep with Obama, a point the two-term senator disputes.

"I owe the people of this state my side of the story," Pryor said. "You see ads being run that say things like Pryor votes with Obama 95 percent of the time. Well, what you don’t see is that they will look at my voting history and then pick out 11 individual votes and then say, ‘he voted with Obama 10 out of 11 times.’ "

Pryor said that when examined objectively, his voting record portrays a very moderate politician.

"The National Journal ranks the voting records of U. S. senators and they have ranked me about dead center in the middle," Pryor said.