Well, I was planning to do this for a while now, ever since the Senate passed H.R. 3590 on Christmas Eve, 2009. I planned to post a recap of the entire debate from the beginning, but to accompany each statement with some music videos embedded off youtube that fits the mood at the time.
Now that the Senate health insurance reform bill has been signed into law and the reconciliation fix bill (with a huge overall of the federal student loan program to boot) has also been passed and signed into law, I'm proud to bring you my recap of the debate from the beginning.
It begins below the fold.
It's March 2009, the economy is in the dumpster and the stimulus bill was passed the previous month.
The president held a bipartisan summit to get the wheels turning on making legislation to provide near-universal quality, affordable health coverage to the United States. This was to help realize the dream of Senator Ted Kennedy. It seemed like it would finally get done at last. An idea that had been pushed around since 1912 would finally get done.
Well, there were townhalls and debates, but Congress finally got down to the nitty-gritty by summer. The major portion of the bill that was emphasized was the public option, a medicare-like insurance coverage plan for those who wanted to opt-out of private insurance. During the summer of 2009, health care reform legislation with a public option made it out of the House Education and Labor Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate HELP Committee. It passed all of these committees on party line vote, making it clear that the Republicans did not want to compromise since their secret focus was on killing the bill at all costs. They claimed they wanted a bipartisan bill, but their actions said otherwise.
The one major hitch that summer came when some members of the Blue Dog Coalition on the Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), tried to hold up the bill over "concerns" about costs and health care to rural locations. They held the committee hostage for over a week, which they spent collecting attention, campaign funds, and "prestige."
Well, their roadblock finally ended and the House Energy and Commerce Committee managed to complete and report out their version of H.R. 3200. All that was left now was the Senate Finance Committee, but the Chairman was busy working with two other Democrats and three Republicans in a "Gang of Six" to come up with a bipartisan bill. Unfortunately, the process took so long that the House and Senate had to adjourn for August recess. The "Gang of Six" was going to continue to hold tele-conferences to try to finish the bill, but it would take time. In the meantime, members of Congress went home to rest and hold town halls. Harmless, right? Well, not this year....
The right-wing tea party people, aided with corporate and lobbyist support with silent approval by the GOP, made it their business to deliberately disrupt town halls in order to prevent constituents from learning about health care reform. Their ultimate goal: to kill health care reform at all costs through what Rachel Maddow called "organized, mob mentality intimidation". Suffice to say, it was a LONG August. It was like a friggin' circus from hell.
The worst part of August was when Senator Ted Kennedy, who has fought all his career for the betterment of society and healthcare reform, passed away. May he always rest in peace.
When at last Congress came back into session, the momentum seemed to be gone and a few members of Congress were turning against the idea of getting HCR done. We needed momentum. The president's speech on September 9, 2009 brought back some of that momentum.
But it took until November 8th for Pelosi to bring H.R. 3962 to the floor of the House, but it came up aces and it passed!
Although, one major issue made it in to the bill at the last moment, the poisonous Stupak-Pitts Amendment that was misrepresented as a reiteration of the Hyde language even though it went significantly passed that by intruding into the private sector. But all was not lost, it could be killed in conference and we hedged our bets on that.
Now that the House had done its part, all eyes were on the Senate to pass its version of HCR. Majority Leader Reid worked with Dodd, Baucus, and the White House to reconcile the differences between the HELP Committee bill and the Finance Committee bill. Finally, out came a bill that had a public option that a state could opt out of in addition to the state-based co-op idea that Senator Conrad fetishized all summer long. It was compromised, but it became increasingly certain that no Republican would support it, not even the most moderate one.
Finally, at the beginning of December, they got the 60 votes needed to open debate on the bill, H.R. 3590, without a single Republican vote. The debate and amendment voting went on without hitch, until they hit an impasse...Joseph Lieberman. He opposed the public option in any form, so they proposed a compromise: medicare buy-in for anyone 55-64 years of age (something Lieberman proposed) and a triggered public option. Unfortunately, not even this would sate the demon spawn.
Just when it looked like there was no hope, the leadership did something unfortunate, but necessary considering the rules of the Senate requiring them to have 60 votes again to close debate. They took out the medicare buy-in and triggered public option idea and stripped out the opt-out public option. With that done, they had 60 votes to close debate and on final passage of H.R. 3590 on December 24th.
Then, after a winter break that ended with an unfortunate loss in the Massachusetts special election, things looked completely hopeless. There would be nothing even resembling conference now. The question was "What do we do from here?"
Quietly, behind the scenes, the White House and the Congressional leadership worked on a way forward: to pass the Senate bill through the House with a sidecar reconciliation bill to fix the points of issue in H.R. 3590. Slowly, momentum grew, and so did hope. Then, before we knew it, February passed into March and everything was in full swing again.
Unfortunately, HCR was threatened yet again by Stupak and company. They seemed willing to sack the bill over the Senate language on abortion, which they seemed to interpret as allowing federal funds for abortion. Either they couldn't read it right or they were lying.
Finally, a reasonable compromise was struck with Stupak's group. The president would issue an executive order that would re-iterate the Hyde Amendment in the bill in no uncertain terms without codifying it. Thankfully, this was enough to satisfy Stupak and he dropped his opposition.
Now, at last came the final debate in the House on H.R. 3590. We were prepared to win this thing.
And the final vote tally for H.R. 3590 was 219-212 and the reconciliation bill passed with 220-211. Hooray!
The Senate then passed the reconciliation bill later that week and sent it back to the House due to the fact that a few very minor things were struck by the parliamentarian. Today, the president signed the reconciliation bill into law.
We've come to the end of a long road, but there will be future battles. Civil rights took several bills to complete, beginning in 1957 and ending in 1964. Even so, future improvements were made, such as the institution of Title IX in 1972.
We still need to move ahead with social reform in our society! There's still much to do!