House Votes to Repeal 'Obamacare,' Curtain Closes on Political Theater

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

House Democrats listen during a news conference on the negative impact of a health care repeal. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images/Getty)

The House of Representatives today voted to pass H.R.2, dubbed “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act,” by a vote of 245-189, with only four Democrats joining the Republican bloc in voting for repeal. Members of the House of Representatives spent the past two days on the floor arguing over the bill's merits.

The debate was marked by a now-familiar back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans, with each trotting out almost as many numbers and anecdotes as there are dollars in the national debt. Given that the bill was certain to pass, but almost certainly has no future beyond the House, this week's proceedings were closer in character to a production of Waiting for Godot than meaningful debate.

Republicans provided a chorus of jobs, jobs, jobs, as if trying to summon them from a Ouija board. Democrats played heartstrings, rolling out story after story of men, women and children with preexisting conditions who now have access to health care under the Affordable Care Act.

No one appeared to be persuaded. That’s what makes a debate like this so disheartening to watch: here is a repeal effort that is doomed in the Senate and the Oval Office and is expected to do little more than offer elected officials an afternoon to recite talking points instead of drafting fixes to what most Americans think is an imperfect bill.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), among the Democrats who brought with them stories of sick constituents, used blown-up pictures of people with preexisting conditions to illustrate her point. Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA) retorted. “If I had a poster, it would be of people in cities holding soup cans, waiting in line for a job.”

Rep. Frank Malone (D-NH) cited a report from the Department of Health and Human Services estimating that “up to 129 million Americans with preexisting conditions could lose their recently-enacted protection from insurance company discrimination.” Rep. Gingrey again offered a curt reply, saying, “if you believe those statistics, I have a beach I can sell you in Pennsylvania.”

That was the script. Democrats say repeal is bad for people with preexisting conditions; Republicans counter that failure to repeal is bad for the economy. If someone references a statistic another doesn’t like, the latter will question its accuracy. Going ahead, it feels redundant to identify Congressman as Republicans or Democrats when introducing them.

Leaving aside its effect on the economy, the laundry list of Republican complaints about the Affordable Care Act included that it was done at an awful time and that it wasn’t done transparently. “It was a bad bill passed at the wrong moment,” said Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH). “It’s one of the major reasons we face such economic uncertainty in this country. Businesses don’t know what it will cost to hire someone.”

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) found fault with the way the law has been managed since its passage. “I’m troubled because we have not had a single oversight hearing in the 10 months since this bill was passed,” he said. “The speaker rewrote the bill, it doubled in size, and then it came to the floor.”

Republicans also voiced concerns that certain provisions of the health care law were unconstitutional, but Democrats countered that the Supreme Court decides questions of constitutionality, making that issue poor grounds for repeal.

The GOP’s strongest selling point may be the fact that they campaigned on repeal—and won. “This legislation was litigated in front of the American people for 2 years,” said Rep. Burgess continued. “They rendered their verdict in November.”

That didn’t stop Democrats from trying to land some punches of their own. An animated Anthony Weiner (D-NY) said, “To those at home playing the drinking game where you take a shot every time a Republican says something that isn’t true, please designate a driver.”

“Everyone knows this vote is symbolic,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), “putting off for another day the hard work of revising and adding provisions to improve the existing law.”

That’s become the Democratic refrain in the face of repeal. Over and over, Democrats harped on Republicans for their “repeal and replace” agenda, saying they heard plenty of talk about the former and nothing about the latter. Republicans did make numerous mentions of alternative reforms, such as making alterations to malpractice liability laws, preserving the illegality of denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, and disposing with the individual mandate. However, to date, any new reform legislation has yet to be drafted.

Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) summed up the mood on the left side of the aisle thus:

“Some are wondering why you would proceed with this measure as soon as you took over the majority. Some say it’s political theater, but I venture to guess it’s another reason. Time is not on your side. The more time you allow for this bill and its full implementation, you lose your argument. Because you’re wrong.”

“I’m not questioning intent or sincerity,” Gonzalez went on. “You were simply wrong. What was happening in the interim? People found out they could get insurance for their children with preexisting conditions. Seniors were helped with problems from the Medicare donut hole. You were in charge for 12 years and did nothing. We did something meaningful, and all you can think is to go back. You say replace. Then why force a discussion on repeal?”

H.R.2 will make its next stop at the Senate, where Democrats have promised to block the bill.


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Comments [8]

Perhaps I could enlighten you, taking just the last point:

In our Constitution, the people and the States retain the powers not given to Congress and not excluded for the States. The powers of Congress are augmented by the "elastic clause" but only where it is necessary and proper in implementing their explicit powers. The only explicit power brought forward by advocates in these types of cases is the interstate commerce clause. The Republicans contend that a mandate that people buy a product is neither necessary or proper in regulating interstate commerce. They could also argue that health insurance is not a product which crosses state lines, except some of them want to do precisely that. Be that as it may, I agree with them that the mandate is neither necessary nor proper to implement the interstate commerce clause. As you correctly observed, the arbiter of constitutionality is the Supreme Court and Republicans have been bringing cases that are now working up the judicial chain. Congress can repeal, and that can accomplish the goal of removing the individual mandate which, you must admit, seriously jeopardizes our freedoms. What's next? A mandate for every citizen to buy a copy of "The Washington Poems"? In this context, the Republican move to repeal is symbolic because, if successful, it would stop the judicial process in its tracks and forego a rare opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn Wickard vs. Filburn. Moreover, the lack of a severability clause in the so-called "Affordable Care Act" means that the USSC striking down the individual mandate strikes down the whole ACA. The Democrats are between a rock and a hard place on this one as long as they insist on the individual mandate. Their choices are repeal of the ACA or the ACA and a host of other Commerce Clause legislation gets struck down. It is the Democratic strategy I don't understand here. The Republicans don't have as much to lose and debate helps them make their case.

Jan. 21 2011 12:32 PM

I could never understand the Republican position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). When I hear them talking about it, they seem to be describing a different law entirely. Government takeover of health care? There is no government takeover. Spending money we don't have? The ACA saves money. The ACA kills jobs? How? The provision mandating buying insurance or paying a fine is unconstitutional? We won't know that until the Supreme Court rules. I don't know what the Republicans are talking about.

Jan. 20 2011 10:30 PM
Carl Peter Klapper from Berkeley Heights, NJ

Thanks for your comments.

1. This is why I am emphasizing the local, municipal role. Let the lobbyists try to blanket all of our municipalities and, what, pay for their budget shortfalls?

2. New equipment and medicine can be introduced off-mandate in a MMD system, with a local option or with cooperative medical services at the county or state level. For the semi-private subscription networks, it is a capital expenditure decided by the network board and/or each facility, working much like a building fund. Also, what I didn't mention in my short synopsis here is that both the MMDs and the subscription medical club networks would benefit from a tight integration with medical education. My model for the medical clubs was, after all, an arm of one of the best medical schools in the country (GW) and this provided great synergy. I would like to expand upon this, with medical and pharmaceutical research colleges in or close to most municipalities.

Jan. 20 2011 03:49 PM
Nick from Outer Mongolia NJ

The 3 Dems that voted FOR the repeal of the "job-killing" healthcare bill (haha..job-killing, aren't the Republicans so cute!) are:

Dan Boren of OK
Mike McIntyre of NC
Mike Ross of Alabama or Arkansas or somewhere down there.

They all originally voted against the first one. I am sure these guys are probably what I have heard as "blue-dog" democrats. Meaning, "wolf in sheeps clothing" or "Republican-that-ran-as-a-democrat-because-the-opposite-party- member-so-was-foul-and-corrupt-it-was- the-only-way-for-them-to-get-elected." Could also be some kind of union based thing too, where they support the unions but essentially agree with the right on most things. Hey you can't blame them, they are only speaking for their constiuency, I think.

Jan. 20 2011 03:09 PM
Nick from Close proximity to Hamilton Medical Center NJ

CPK, I like your iniative, and your civic drive, it is really refreshing. I think you have 2 big problems with your idea:

1. You can't shut down these big insurance companies. They have lots of money and have lobbyists whose job it is to bother congressmen to keep things in the best possible position for them to make dinero.

2. Your plan would be good if medicine wasn't always changing. New procedures, new diagnostics, new medicine, new equipment, all have different costs associated with them. New equipment especially. How do you assign a cost to some new fangled high tech laser that can operate on certain body parts and not on others? If you want to simply shoot it down, cut the price to be beneficial to people, and have little to no profit, there will be no drive to create these new devices or procedures. That is the worry. I think the problem is rather simple, just hurtful to a small group of people with a boat load of wealth. That is why you are seeing such a big rebuke. There is some kind of disconnect between someone like me (late twenties, have been to the DR once in the past 5 years, and all I did was talk to him) and someone like my grandparents who were getting ambulanced to the hospital probably 5 times in 7 months (during the last year of her their life). The problem is that they blow the money that I am paying now, and then complain when I get older. Sort of like Social Security. There is some kind of malfeasance going on in the ranks of the companies, but no one has been able to find it.

Jan. 20 2011 02:55 PM
Aubrey Lethbridge from Brooklyn NY

I am curious, does anyone know if there were any Representatives that voted for the bill originally and also for the repeal of the bill? Obviously they would have been democrats because no GOP members voted for the bill initially.

Jan. 20 2011 11:29 AM

With all due respect to the Congressman from Texas, I was not in charge for 12 years. In fact, I have never been in charge. Such opportunities are not available to populists, such as myself. The best I have been able to do is to suggest policies to those who were in charge, such as the repeal of Regulation Q, and hope that they would cease their partisan bickering and one-up-manship long enough to listen to reason. That was another era, when Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan would see a good idea and work together to end stagflation.

It is clearly not like that today. I have tried to show my idea of eliminating all health insurance with health care provided directly by municipal medical departments with everything budgeted up front, doctors and other staff on salary, all mandates funded through paying standardized salaries for the mandated staff, standard prices for mandated equipment, supplies and medicine, and the states, counties and municipalities augmenting it from there. Some serendipity brought me to a bookstore after dropping my daughter off at college and finding Howard Dean there. He and the other patrons I discussed it with thought it the ultimate solution, something to work for but, given how things worked out, it seems like it would have been the plan to put up first. And Howard Dean has not been in charge for a while.

The ones who have been in charge have been fastidiously ignoring me. Newspapers which have published me in the past have not printed my letters on this topic. Instead, it has been all about partisanship in Congress and the White House. The Republicans accuse their critics of being Democrats and answer with the Republican talking points against the Democratic positions. The Democrats accuse their critics of being Republicans and answer with the Democratic talking points against the Republican positions. What is a non-partisan, indeed anti-partisan populist citizen to do? We try to put our ideas out again and again and hope that someone will listen. We try other venues, like the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, with the non-governmental variants. If I thought anybody in government would listen, I might have some hope that someone in government would perhaps listen to those instead. But I doubt that they would consider a hybrid system with subscription medical clubs and participating health insurers offering travel service to members of the others respective networks in consideration of the others travel subscriptions and premiums, with a certain amount subsidized as per the mission of the religious, charitable or governmental organizations. No. It is not likely at all. My best chance is the diocesan convention.

Jan. 19 2011 10:00 PM

As usual, Frank Pallone is doing a wonderful job of misrepresenting me. He thinks it is just fine for the government to convict me of the crime of not falling for the scam called "health insurance", without due process by the way, and then using the fine -- along with the insurance premiums from the rubes who did buy this snake oil -- to drive up the price of medical care I will surely need from getting sick after this grave miscarriage of justice.

Carl Peter Klapper
Sixth Congressional District (NJ)
i.e. Pallone's District

Jan. 19 2011 09:19 PM

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