The Pulse: House passes health care reform
| March 22, 2010Last night, the House of Representatives passed comprehensive health care reform after more than a year of fierce debate. The sweeping legislation will extend coverage to 32 million Americans, curb the worst abuses of the private insurance industry, and attempt to contain spiraling health care costs.
The main bill passed the House by a vote 219 to 212, after which the House approved a package of changes to the Senate bill by a vote of 220 to 211. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama will sign the main bill into law. Then, the Senate will incorporate the House-approved changes through filibuster-proof budget reconciliation, perhaps as early as this week.
Last night’s vote was a resounding victory for the Democrats. John Nichols of The Nation compares the passage of health care reform to other great milestones in American legislative history, including the Social Security, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act.
Like all great progressive victories, this one was hard fought. Paul Waldman writes in the American Prospect:
This effort will be remembered as one of the most anguished legislative battles in history, alongside the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Reserve Act, the creation of Medicare, and a few others. The positive outcome is not enough to restore one’s faith in the American political system, because the process did so much to destroy that faith. American politics has never been particularly reasonable or reasoned, but this debate saw a plague of demagoguery, fear-mongering, and outright lies that puts anything most of us can remember to shame.
Tea partiers slinging slurs
Months of inflammatory rhetoric about communism and death panels whipped the right wing into a frenzy. Opposition reached a fever pitch this weekend as tea partiers and other anti-reformers gathered in the Capitol. On Sunday afternoon, some House Republican legislators further inflamed the angry protesters by shouting encouragement from the balcony of the Capitol building, as Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) chastised his colleagues for riling up the protesters, saying “It’s like the Salem witch trials—the health care bill has become their witch. It’s a supernatural force, and we’ve got hysteria.”
In separate incidents several anti-reform protesters hurled racist slurs at Democratic legislators. Brian Beutler relates this shocking incident for TPMDC:
Civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Andre Carson (D-IN) related a particularly jarring encounter with a large crowd of protesters screaming “kill the bill”… and punctuating their chants with the word “nigger.”
Standing next to Lewis, emerging from a Democratic caucus meeting with President Obama, Carson said people in the crowd yelled, “kill the bill and then the N-word” several times, while he and Lewis were exiting the Cannon House office building.
Adele Stan of AlterNet reported that one protester was arrested after spitting on African American legislator Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO).
The racial undercurrent to the anti-reform movement has been obvious from the beginning. The carefully coded language dropped away this weekend as protesters began to lose hope of killing the bill.
No public option…yet
To the chagrin of progressives, the final bill does not include a public health insurance option. However, going back to Mother Jones, Suzy Khimm reports that Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, promised to introduce a bill to create a strong public option as soon as Obama signs health care reform into law.
As tea party protests raged outside, it seemed as if abortion might derail health reform. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) insisted that he had the votes to kill the bill. At the last minute, Stupak was placated with an executive order from the president reiterating that the health care reform would not fund elective abortions.
The executive order is a red herring. It won’t impose any further restrictions, it just restates the status quo. Mike Lillis posted a copy of the order at the Washington Independent. The president might as well have reiterated a ban on federal funds for vajazzling. Health care reform was never going to fund vajazzling or abortion, but if Stupak finds the repetition soothing, so be it.
The chair of the pro-choice caucus, Rep. Lois DeGette (D-CO) acquiesced to the Stupak compromise, describing the overall bill as a “strong foundation,” according to John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent. Pro-choice groups will be angry, but realistically, the executive order was the best possible outcome. For a while, it looked like Democrats were going to have to make substantive concessions to Stupak. In the end, he flipped his vote for a presidential proclamation of the status quo.
In a last ditch effort to derail reform, the Republicans tried to reinsert Stupak’s strict anti-abortion language into the reconciliation package. The Republicans were trying to poison the reconciliation bill in order to threaten its chances in the Senate, explains Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent. The gambit failed. When Stupak rose to speak against the motion, he was shouted down by Republican representatives. One unidentified member called Stupak a “baby killer.”
Bad with the good
Health care reform is not the progressive panacea that many had hoped for. The private insurance industry remains firmly in control, buttressed by government subsidies and no competition from the public sector. However, real changes are coming.
Within the next 6 months, children will be allowed to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Lifetime benefit caps are history, and annual caps will be regulated. Insurers will no longer be allowed to dump customers who get sick, or offer coverage to children for everything but their preexisting conditions.
Going down in history
Whatever else Obama may accomplish, he will go down in history as the president who put the United States on the path to universal health care. Skeptics said it couldn’t be done. Adele Stan observes in AlterNet:
It took the first African-American president and the first woman Speaker of the House to do what generations of politicians had failed to do: create a federally regulated health-care reform program that extends health insurance coverage to the majority of Americans.
Health care reform is not an end in itself, it’s a process. Passing this legislation is the first step towards establishing health care as a right of all Americans. Like any attempt to expand the rights of the disenfranchised, the struggle will be met with fierce resistance.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. Source
March 22, 2010
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has scored the biggest victory of his presidency as Congress approved his signature health care reform bill, bringing near-universal coverage to a wealthy country in which tens of millions of people are uninsured.
The measure passed by the House of Representatives Sunday night represents the biggest expansion of the U.S. federal government’s social safety net since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted in the 1960s during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to provide government-funded health care coverage to the elderly and poor.
Although the bill does not provide universal health care, it should expand coverage to about 95 per cent of eligible Americans, compared with 83 per cent today.
The stakes could not have been higher for Obama, who has pushed health care as his top priority since taking office in January 2009. The issue was seen as pivotal to other issues on the president’s ambitious domestic agenda, including immigration reform and climate change legislation.
“I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality,” Obama said. “I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote.”
The health care issue is likely to shape the November congressional election, when Republicans try to capture control of both chambers. Democrats will campaign on having overhauled a system that has made both health care and insurance unaffordable for many. Republicans say the bill will ultimately increase taxes and damage the quality of health care and has little public support.
Widely viewed as dead two months ago, the Senate-passed bill cleared the House on Sunday night on a 219-212 vote, with Republicans unanimous in opposition.
A second, smaller measure – making changes in the first – cleared the House shortly before midnight and was sent to the Senate, where Democratic leaders said they had the votes necessary to pass it quickly.
Congressional officials said they expect Obama to sign the main bill as early as Tuesday.
Obama will travel outside Washington on Thursday as he now turns to seeing the companion bill through the Senate and selling the health care overhaul’s benefits on behalf of House lawmakers who cast risky votes.
The president watched the House vote Sunday from the White House with Vice-President Joe Biden and about 40 staff aides. When the long sought 216th vote came in – the magic number needed for passage – the room burst into applause and hugs. An exultant president exchanged a high-five with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
Republican Senator John McCain said Monday morning that Democrats have not heard the last of the health care debate, and said he was repulsed by “all this euphoria going on.”
McCain, who was Obama’s rival in the 2008 presidential election, told ABC television that “outside the (Washington) Beltway, the American people are very angry. They don’t like it, and we’re going to repeal this.”
While national health care has been a goal of presidents stretching back decades, it has proved elusive, in part because self-reliance and suspicion of a strong central government remain strong in America.
After more than a year of political combat, debate on the House floor fell along predictable lines. Not one Republican voted for the bill. Some moderate Democrats also voted against it.
Most Americans receive private health insurance through their jobs as part of their benefits, but employers are not required to offer coverage. The government covers the elderly and indigent.
The health reform measure extends coverage to 32 million of the nearly 50 people in the U.S. who lack it and bans insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. It would also usher in a significant expansion of Medicaid, the program for the poor.
Parents would be able to keep children on their coverage up to age 26. A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion goes into high gear.
Under the legislation, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused. Once enacted, the measure would create a series of so-called “insurance exchanges” beginning in 2014 where self-employed people and small businesses could pool together to shop for health care coverage.
Republicans readily agreed the bill would affect everyone in America – it will have an impact on one-sixth of the U.S. economy – but warned repeatedly of that it will result in higher taxes and other financial burdens.
“We have failed to listen to America,” said House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner.
As the House met Sunday, a shouting band of protesters outside the Capitol dramatized their opposition, and one man stood up in the House visitor’s gallery shouting, “Kill the bill” before he was ushered out – evidence of the passions the yearlong debate over health care has stirred.
Obama’s quest to overhaul health care seemed at a dead end two months ago, when Republicans won a special election to fill the late Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat, and with it, enough votes to prevent a final vote.
But the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid soon came up with a rescue plan that required the House to approve the Senate-passed measure despite opposition to many of its provisions, then have both chambers pass a fix-it measure incorporating numerous changes.
They need the Public Option. It was the most important part of the the bill in the first place.
The politicians have it, so should all Americans. What a shame it was not in the final draft.
Republicans who wanted it eliminated use the Public Option.
Now they will have to tinker with what they have to make things right.
Millions of Americans have no health care coverage. Lets hope this helps at least some of them.
The US needs to eliminate “Lobby Groups” like the insurance industry or pharmaceutical industry……..
These types of Lobby Groups do not help the American people. They only help line the pockets of profiteers.