Today will be a transformative day for the American people. Congress will vote on a historic health reform bill that will provide coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, end the practice of denial for pre-existing conditions, end rescission of coverage, set limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and force private insurance companies to spend more of our premiums on our own access to care. It will create an insurance exchange to help individuals exercise greater choice in their insurance provider. It will provide subsidies to low-income families, tax credits to small businesses, and lower costs for senior citizens.
Of course, historic votes can't happen without many members of the Texas Congressional delegation getting their two cents in. I'll be liveblogging some of the high and low points from C-SPAN today as we get closer to the vote, scheduled right now for around 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. CST. And for those of you who aren't C-SPAN or parliamentary procedure junkies, here is a handy guide to how the 7 votes in all will proceed.
A hodge-podge of facts before we get started:
- Texas leads the nation in rate of uninsured residents at just over 25%.
- Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the nation at 20.2%. Our Legislature cut CHIP benefits in 2003, some of which were restored in 2007.
- One out of three Americans under 65 was without insurance at some point during 2007-2008. 80% of these folks were members of working families.
- The Congressional Budget Office determined that the Senate bill plus changes up for a vote in the House today would LOWER THE DEFICIT by $138 billion. (Lower! As in, make less!)
- Given the current make-up of Congress we need 216 votes to pass. There are a few empty seats right now.
- The original House bill passed in November by a vote of 220-215, with lone Republican Rep. Joseph Cao casting the bipartisan vote in favor of the bill.
Note: the transcriptions below are on-the-fly, there may be minor errors, and anything that's paraphrased is not in quotations. Representatives in blockquotes, my comments below them. All emphasis mine.
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, TX-18
In recent days, members of this body “have been called the 'N word,' and spat on. Just recently someone asked me why my braids are so tight. But I know there is a better way. … We will be able to heal the land by voting this evening on a health care bill that will help those who cannot help themselves: single mothers, those with pre-existing diseases.” … Texas has the highest number of uninsured. … “And so today there will be no shame in my vote because I will vote for those Texans who are not here and cannot vote for themselves.”
It's true: Texas has the highest rates of uninsured residents. Everything is bigger in Texas–especially the percentage of folks who cannot receive affordable, accessible health care. Even in liberal Austin, we're over 18% uninsured, which is “good” for a city in Texas.
Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, TX-1
“I'm very sincere.” Anti-choice Democrats have been “sold a bill of goods.” … “There are people waiting to get the executive order struck down the moment it is signed.”
Apparently in a deal to get anti-choice Democrats like Stupak, Dahlkemper and others to vote Yes, there will be some sort of Executive Order reaffirming that Federal funds will not be spent on abortion care for women. Unsure if this extends the bounds of the Hyde Amendment, an odious measure that prevent our poorest women from accessing their right to choose. Note: it's a “rider” attached to appropriations, not a law. It is also far past time we end these absurd anti-woman policies.
Republican Rep. Ted Poe, TX-2
“Today is a defining moment in this nation's history. … Will we choose the path of individual liberty? Or choose the path of government tyranny? Will we choose to control our own health? Or will we choose to go the way of a European nanny state where government forces health choices on it? Do we uphold 'we the people,' or do we return to the chains and slavery of government and choose 'we the subjects'? … The people have spoken against a more oppressive, intrusive government in charge of their health!”
There's a special irony in a Southern, White male Republican suggesting that Democrats are prompting a 'return to slavery.' Especially when anti-HCR callers have used highly racist language against members of the Black Congressional Caucus when voicing opposition to the bill. Also? Ted Poe has clearly seen V for Vendetta way, way too many times and seemingly has taken the wrong message from it.
Update 2:05 p.m.: A handful of House members have been debating some procedural challenges to the Rules for awhile, with back-and-forth between Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, a completely dishonest Paul Ryan, an overly excitable Ted Poe, and a “don't give me that ish!” Sheila Jackson-Lee.
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, TX-18
“Edward Kennedy told us that he had a vision and a resolve, that the health care of Americans would no longer count on whether they are wealthy Americans. … This is not an unfunded mandate, because we know so well that the CBO has said that this will take care of itself. It cuts the deficit $130 billion dollars … It eliminates the Medicare donut, and insures 32 million people. … 45,000 Americans die every year [from lack of insurance]. … I cannot tolerate that and today we will heal this land and we will vote for the health care bill.”
SJ-L had a chart with her! Good to see Democrats going toe-to-toe in the visual-aide department. Earlier speaker Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Edward Kennedy, shared a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and most inhumane.”
Republican Rep. Ted Poe, TX-2
“This bill has special deals for special folks! … [blah blah]… Special deals for special folks! … This bill is UNCONSTITUTIONAL! The Texas Attorney General will SUE the Federal government [to block this bill]because of special deals for special folks! This bill is UNCONSTITUTIONAL because it forces the American people to BUY a product! Where in the Constitution does it require Americans to buy something?! [something about mandating the purchase of donuts].”
Personally, I want to live in an America that mandates donut purchases, as long as accommodations are made for folks with special digestive needs. Also? I'm wondering how well a tranquilizer dart would do running against Poe as an independent. It'd be a compelling contrast. Also? If we can ever vote this guy out of office he should do used-car commercials. He's already got the delivery down pat.
Update 4:29 p.m.: Earlier, Republican Rep. Pete Sessions was granted “as much time as he can consume,” yet for some reason just ranted for about a minute on deceptive trade practices, then called Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida a radical. (Shrug.)
A “conga-line” of Republicans just finished stating their opposition to this “flawed health care bill,” including Texas Republicans Randy Neugebauer, Kay Granger, Pete Olsen, Jeb Hensarling, Ted Poe, and a few others. John Culberson punctuated his opposition by dropping a copy of the bill on table. (Dude, even Carrot Top is a better prop comic.)
There's a new timeline for the vote tonight, with final passage likely coming between 7:45 and 8:30 p.m. Central. (Other folks on the Hill suggest it may be as late as 10:00 p.m.)
Update 5:44 p.m. With 225 votes, the House passes the rule that will allow the body to simultaneously concur with the Senate Bill and pass changes that will be completed in Reconciliation. Now, we begin the actual debate on the contents of the bill. The only remaining hurdle will be a procedural one–the Republicans will attempt a motion to recommit, which would send the bill back to committee. Democrats can block this motion. Then it's on to the final up-or-down.
One aside as we wait for members of the Texas Congressional Delegation to take to the microphone: once this passes, are Republicans really going to campaign in favor of the bill's repeal? Will they go on record supporting denial for pre-existing conditions, rescission of coverage, higher out-of-pocket costs? The Republican Party previously opposed Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and so many other programs that are now an integral part of our society. They opposed civil rights, the Voting Rights Act, and so many other landmark pieces of legislation that have made our country great. They were wrong then, they are wrong now.
Update 6:47 p.m. General Debate. Bring on the crazy.
Republican Rep. Michael Burgess, TX-26
“It's really a shame we have this health care bill in front of us. [It pays for] 1700 new IRS agents, but not $1 for a new nurse or doctor. You may be getting your pre-natal care from TurboTax.”
Gotta admit, that's a hell of a way to use your 15 seconds of fame. Also I think he may have confused a computer mouse with an ultrasound wand, which is rather alarming for a former doctor.
Republican Rep. Joe Barton, TX-6
“One party acting unilaterally can dictate the entire will of the American people. …[The bill is] fatally flawed in terms of balancing the budget, and will take away coverage from millions of people.”
Clearly Barton was asleep during the first 5 years of the Bush administration, which is interesting since he's held his seat since 1985. Also? If it reduces the deficit by $135B in the first ten years and $1.2 trillion dollars over the next ten, I am somewhat confused about what kind of math Barton is practicing.
Republican Rep. Sam Johnson, TX-3
“Today's vote defines what kind of America we want to live in … [I fought for freedom, yadda yadda] … Freedom from a $2.6 trillion Washington take-over of healthcare, freedom from skyrocketing taxes, freedom bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor, freedom from exploding debt, freedom from the government forcing you to buy health insurance. … What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children and grandchildren? … Join me in this fight for freedom, vote no.”
Big scores for use of buzz-words. Evidently Johnson wants to leave his great-great-children with the legacy of 25% of household incomes going to insurance premiums.
Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, TX-8
“Now the government's short on money. They started rationing care. … Folks, this is Massachusetts, today. Higher costs, slower care, rationing. That's why Massachusetts said 'NO' to Obamacare.”
Over 25% of Texas residents are uninsured. 20% of Texas children are uninsured. Our premiums have risen over 91% over the past 10 years. This is the status quo Brady wants to keep. And how does he support his view? By invoking Massachusetts, where only 2.6% of residents are uninsured, and only 1.5% of children. Sounds like Kevin Brady is the person trying to ration care, by preventing Texans from receiving the health insurance they need to access affordable care.