March 21, 2010 [LINK / comment]
For much of the day, rumors indicated that the Democrats had a majority of the votes locked up, suggesting that there would be a late rush of fence-sitters following the leaders, but the final result was still very close: 219 yeas and 212 nays. Four and a half months after the House of Representatives passed its own version of Obamacare (Nov. 7, 2009), the people's assembly swallowed its collective pride and passed the Senate bill (which was passed on Christmas Eve), as a prelude to passing a second "reconciliation" resolution, by a vote of 220-211.
The main element of drama today centered around Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, whose amendment forbidding any Federal funds for abortion paved the way for the previous vote to pass the bill. He had declared in no uncertain terms that the Senate bill was unacceptable because insurance would cover abortion, so the question was, what could be done to address his objections? As the clock ticked through mid-afternoon, the details emerged: President Obama said he would sign an executive order to create enforcement mechanisms to make sure that no abortions were performed with taxpayer money. It may be a meaningless gesture, since Congress or succeeding presidents could easily undo such an order, but it provided Stupak with the political cover he needed.
In the final speeches of the debate this evening, House Minority Leader John Boehner showed uncharacteristic passion and emotion, a pleasant surprise. He scolded the Democrats for defying the will of the American people, and for disregarding the financial consequences of creating a vast new entitlement at a time when the Federal government is already dangerously indebted to foreign creditors. The CBO estimates indicate otherwise, you say? They only respond to specific questions based on specific assumptions, which in this case seem to be extremely unrealistic. Garbage in, garbage out. Boehner may have infringed upon House rules of decorum by his loud outbursts of "like hell," but I'm glad he said it. Many millions of Americans, including me, are outraged at having this bill rammed through with not even a pretense of consensus, and we're not going to take this lying down.
Speaking of which, this matter will almost certainly be challenged in the court system. As I was driving into Washington yesterday I heard Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli talking about the constitutional issues on the local C-SPAN radio station. (I chatted with him about that very same subject last October.) Cuccinelli is among a large group of state attorneys general who have pledge to file a lawsuit blocking implementation of the health care bill (soon to become an Act) on various grounds. It's all a question of which provisions they believe should be challenged. Also, Virginia recently became the first state to pass a law which nullifies the individual insurance mandate for residents of Virginia. That law provides ample basis for a full-fledged campaign of civil disobedience against the unconstitutional health care legislation. It's an echo of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1797, and brings up the highly contentious issue of state nullification of Federal laws for the first time since before the Civil War. Yikes.
* President Obama is expected to sign the Senate bill into law in the next couple days, but the Senate will now have to approve the "reconciliation" resolution -- unless they decide to monkey around with the rules once again, that is. Under reconciliation rules, a majority vote suffices for passage, and no filibuster or non-germane amendments are allowed. Since the Democrats had 60 votes last time and lost one seat in the Massachusetts special election in January, it is all but certain they will have several votes more than are needed. They could, of course, add amendments of their own, forcing the House to approve those modification, etc., etc. (Avoiding such a legislative game of "ping pong" is exactly why the mechanism of the conference committee was adopted in the first place.) Once the iron out all the wrinkles, Obama will sign that separate reconciliation resolution into law.
Let's not forget that the Senate will be invoking the dreaded "nuclear option," dispensing with the Senate's cherished custom of requiring a three-fifths supermajority to pass major legislation. (All of a sudden, Sen. Scott Brown -- the GOP #41 -- is invisible.) There will be hell to pay on the Senate floor, unless the Democrats make some major concession on some other policy matter. Thus, we can look forward to months of stalling on presidential appointments as the Senate Republicans make their displeasure known.
Since there are currently four vacancies in the House (which is supposed to have 435 members), the minimum required for passage was 216, so the Democrats could have still won the historic vote even if three more of their members had broken ranks. I inadvertently annoyed someone on Facebook by pointing out that the three House seats in Virginia which the Democrats picked up in the 2008 election might end up making the difference. As it turned out, that was not the case, so there is no reason for Virginian Republicans to wring their hands over that.
I drove up to Washington yesterday to make my plaintive voice heard, holding up a protest sign, and to be present as history was unfolding. I approached the Capitol building from the southeast side, but was stymied by Capitol police in my efforts to get to the west side where the Tea Party protesters were gathered. Roadblocks on Independence Avenue and First Street N.E. forced me to circle back around, and I only saw a few like-minded folks doing their part. I happened to catch sight of one prominent politician who drove his car right past me: Michigan Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat. I took a few photos while stopped at red lights, including this panoramic one: