House Passes Health Care Reform: How They Covered It

Last 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.

Landmark legislation

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.

Stupak, stopped

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.  This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger


Robert S.
Robert S7 years ago

Backroom deals, bribary, threats and intimidation got this bill passed. Chicago politics at its best.

gail d.
gail dair7 years ago


Roger H.
.7 years ago

It was announced today that in their haste to pass the Senate bill without reading it, Democrats failed to notice that the provision to allow parents to buy health insurance for children with preexisting conditions doesn't take effect until 2014. Even President Obama showed that he hasn't read the bill by publicly proclaiming several times that this provision would go into effect immediately. The White House hurriedly directed the Dept. of Health and Human Services to come up with regulations to correct the problem, but were informed that the regulations would not be legally binding without amending the law during reconciliation, which would require the House to vote on the bill again. This is a no win situation for Democrats because Republicans will try to introduce an amendment to correct the mistake and then the Democrats will have to vote it down or send the amended reconciliation bill back to the House for a second time. Whatever happens, it has to be fixed or nobody with preexisting conditions will benefit from the new law until 2014.

Mervi R.
Mervi R7 years ago

Glad it was passed!

Sandra S.
Sandra S7 years ago

I wonder about Native Americans. They already get substandard (i.e.crappy) medical care from the gov't.

Chrystle A.
Chrystle A7 years ago

There are still claims being made all over the place. I've stated my case in the past as so many others have. There's no sense bickering now; it's a fait a complis. Beating each other over the head at this point HAS no point. We'll see how this plays out now.

Craig Chmiel
Craig C7 years ago

First off the 3 great things we have social welfare, medicrap, and civil rights you are right to a certain point we still have a way to go on civil rights but the other 2 are broke meaning there is no money in the system and i ask you what are you going to do if you are at a stage in your life when these programs will be your life blood? And to a poster take 6-10 and rethink what was said, kids at 26 what then when their parents lose their jobs? medicaid my state is broke now and they are adding 600,000 more to the system, guess what we are #1 in lost housing market, meaning less tax revenue and for cuts to drugs i care for a person and her insulin just went up $30 from $75 to $105 do you think they are going pay to pay this cost guess again my friend, it will be you and you alone, so get real.

manyfeathers u.
manyfeathers u7 years ago

Sandra, I am not buying that bridge. When has the government ever saved money? We are being taxed to death. We are on our knees now. What will it be like in 2020? By the way.....if you want to keep your Dr. you may have to pay him up to $250.00 a year. And that is for each Dr.! Lots of luck for free choice.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

Sometimes I wonder where some of us get our information...could it be Fox News?????????

Pa H.
P H7 years ago

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, what about the fact that thirty more million people will be covered under this, no matter how much you feel it is lacking, under this healthcare reform bill?

RALPH NADER: First of all, that won’t even begin until 2014, 180,000 dead Americans later. Second, there’s no guarantee of that. The insurance companies can game this system. The 2,500 pages is full of opportunities and ambiguities for the insurance companies to game the system and to make it even worse.

And let’s say there are more people covered, right? Well, they’re being forced to buy junk insurance policies. There’s no regulation of insurance prices. There’s no regulation of the antitrust laws on this. Everything went down that Dennis was fighting for. There’s no regulation that prevents the insurance companies from taking this papier-mâché bill and lighting a fire to it and making a mockery of it. There’s no shift of power. There’s no facility to create a national consumer health organization, which we proposed and the Democrats ignored years ago, in order to give people a voice so they can have their own non-profit consumer lobby on Washington.