Federal Healthcare Update

November 9, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

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By Mona Mohib
Saturday evening, the House approved H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. The bill passed the House 220 to 215, squeaking by with just two votes more than the bare minimum needed to pass the legislation. 39 Democrats opposed the bill, and one Republican, Representative Joseph Cao (R-LA) voted for the bill. Rep. Cao said that the decision to back the bill came after talking to his constituents, many of whom are uninsured.
The bill came to a vote after a days-long deadlock over the issue of abortion funding. Speaker Pelosi announced late Friday that they would take a vote on the amendment offered by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), which would block the use of federal funding for insurance plans that cover elective abortions. This would apply to the public option and anyone using a subsidy to purchase insurance. Women covered under these would have to pay for abortions out of pocket, or purchase separate insurance riders to cover the procedure. The amendment was accepted shortly before the vote was called on the bill. Liberal Democrats, unhappy with the amendment, have stated that they hope to make changes to the provision during negotiations with the Senate.
The other point of controversy, over a proposed provision barring illegal immigrants from buying into the insurance exchanges, took a backseat to the debate over abortion funding. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said late Friday evening that he had received assurances from the leadership that they would not support such a measure.
Having finished the House bill, pressure now reverts to the Senate to finish a bill by the end of the year and meet President Obama’s timeline. Sending lawmakers home over the holiday recess without a finished bill could prove politically dangerous, and result in a backlash similar to the August town halls. Additionally, letting the bill slip into next year would cause a loss of momentum and hold up the rest of the legislative calendar. The White House is putting increased pressure on the Senate to finish this year. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week about ways to get the bill done before December, and President Obama announced on Saturday that he looked forward to signing comprehensive health care reform “by the end of the year.” Sen. Reid must wait on an official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score, which is expected later this week, before he can schedule a floor vote. In the meantime, Sen. Reid is working to get the 60 votes necessary to bring the bill to the floor. Even if he is able to hold the Democratic Caucus together for this vote, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has expressed reservations about any bill that has a public option. No Republicans have indicated support for the bill.