After months of lobbying for reform, liberal Democrats and the White House achieved a much needed victory on Saturday by delivering on a top domestic priority. In a late night vote, the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 3962 Affordable Health Care for America Act by a tally of 220-215.
Recently the debate surrounding health care had intensified with several protests occurring outside the steps of Capitol Hill. These “Tea Party” protesters had gathered to voice their resentment toward this government expansion. The crowd even included several Republican members of the House of Representatives such Rep. Virginia Foxx and Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Despite the passionate opposition expressed by those on the right, the Democratic leadership was confident that they would reach the magic number of 218 votes needed for passage.
To ensure unity among the ranks of the Democrats, earlier that day President Barack Obama met with Democrats in the House, and made numerous phone calls to Representatives who were undecided.
This political pressure led to 219 Democrats and one lone Republican voting in favor of this bill. Democrats had hoped to attain more moderates within their own party, but in the end 39 Democrats voted in opposition. This opposition included liberal Representative Dennis Kucinich from the 10th District of Ohio.
Prior to voting, the Republican leadership had believed their opposition to the bill would be undoubtedly unanimous. The only Republican that voted for passage was Rep. Joe Cao from Louisiana whose constituency is heavily Democratic.
This bill, which has been supported by the American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired Persons, if enacted would be the biggest expansion of health care in the nation’s history since the establishment of Medicare in 1965.
House Minority Leader John Boehner released a statement in which he expressed severe doubts and stated that H.R. 3962 will “dim the light of freedom and diminish opportunity for future generations.”
However, those on the left such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi viewed the passage of this bill as a “great victory for the American people.” Liberals have come to this conclusion due to the progressive elements that this 1.2 trillion dollar program contains.
This bill would provide coverage to 36 million uninsured citizens, and would call for the establishment of a public option to compete with private insurers in a market exchange. The bill would also guarantee that people could not be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and would require employers to provide coverage to full-time employees.
In a compromise to win over moderate Democrats, an amendment to the bill was passed. This alteration dealt with the use of abortion services in the public option and market exchange programs.
In a vote of 240-194, it was decided that federal dollars will be prohibited from providing abortion services to customers. Although this amendment pleased moderate Democrats and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, it did little to appease Republican anger.
“Americans want a common-sense, bipartisan approach to health care reform, not President Obama’s and Nancy Pelosi’s costly 1,900 page government-run experiment on our nation’s health care system,” said Michael Steele, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The bill will now move to the United States Senate where it is expected opposition will be fierce. President Barack Obama, speaking to the press in the Rose Garden on Sunday, called for the Senate to “take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on the behalf of the American people.”
Unlike the House, the Democratic leadership in the Senate will need more unity among the Democratic Caucus, and will try to appeal to moderates such Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
According to Larry Schwab, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “It will come down to the cloture vote and keeping 60 members together. Harry Reid and President Obama are working on negotiations to keep the moderates happy.”
The Senate also has its own version of health care reform produced by the Senate Finance Committee. This version could attract more support from moderate Senators on both sides of the aisle than the House’s favored bill.
If both chambers pass different forms of reform, a conference committee would be instituted in order to work out differences between the two.