Saturday's debate on the House floor was at various turns entertaining, depressing, amusing, and even enraging. But, strictly speaking, it was not particularly dramatic. Yes, the final vote was close. A bill needs 218 votes to pass. This one got 220, including one not entirely expected Republican. And at least according to one Capitol Hill source, the leadership didn't have a bunch of extra votes in its pocket.
At 11:14 p.m., the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 3962, the "Affordable Health Care for America" Act. Cheers erupted when the tally reached 218 votes, enough to pass the bill. The final count was 220 for, 215 against, with one Republican (Joseph Cao of Louisiana) joining the majority of Democrats. More soon.
Though comparatively less divisive than abortion debate roiling the House this weekend, the immigration issue in the health-care bill also has yet to be settled. The controversy is over whether to prohibit unauthorized immigrants from purchasing insurance that’s available through the new insurance exchanges. The Senate Finance bill includes such a prohibition, and conservatives have been pushing to include a similar one in the House bill.
Opponents of abortion rights won a significant political victory last night, making it more likely that millions of American women will no longer be able to purchase insurance that covers abortion services. At issue is what happens inside the new insurance exchanges, through which small businesses and people purchasing coverage on their own would shop for insurance. People purchasing coverage through the exchanges would be eligible for subsidies if their household incomes were below four times the poverty level.
At around 10:40 a.m., the House erupted into applause as Representative John Dingell of Michigan took the gavel in order to preside over the House of Representatives. Dingell, the longest serving representative in Congress, has been pursuing universal health care since the day he took office in 1955. It's a crusade that Dingell inherited from his father, John Dingell, Sr. who in 1945 co-sponsored the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill.
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Prediction: If health care reform comes up for a vote in the House of Representatives tomorrow, it will pass. OK, that’s not much of a prediction. Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t actually bring a bill to the floor unless she has the votes. And as of late Friday afternoon, she didn’t. On Capitol Hill, staff began talking about the possibility of a postponement until Sunday, or even early next week. The sticking points are the ones you’ve read about elsewhere: abortion and immigration.
A little less than a month ago, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association--the trade group representing state-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans--released a misleading study suggesting that health care reform would mean higher premiums for small businesses and individuals buying coverage on their own. The basis for the findings were calculations by the consulting firm, Oliver Wyman.
For all of the crazy arguments against health care reform, a few of them are entirely sensible--and worth taking seriously. As I write in my latest Kaiser Health News column, which appeared on TNR’s home page yesterday, one of those is the worry that Congress won’t follow through with promises to raise the revenue--or find the savings--necessary to finance expansions of health insurance. In other words, Congress may pass a law calling for reductions in Medicare expenditures or raising an assortment of new taxes.
Paul Krugman's column today is about how the stimulus was too small. I agree entirely. What I find puzzling is his apparent belief that the Obama administration is the primary culprit for this shortcoming. Here's Krugman: But while health care won’t be Mr. Obama’s Waterloo, economic policy is starting to look like his Anzio. ... President Obama came into office with a strong mandate and proclaimed the need to take bold action on the economy. His actual actions, however, were cautious rather than bold.