KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

House Debates Historic Health Reform Legislation, Anti-Abortion Amendment Passes

News outlets have been closely watching the House of Representatives's consideration of a sweeping health reform bill.  

CNN: "The House of Representatives on Saturday night passed an amendment to pending health care legislation that prohibits federal funds for abortion services in the public option and in the so-called insurance 'exchange' the bill would create. The vote passed 240-194. The amendment was introduced by anti-abortion Democrats. Its consideration was considered a big win for them and for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which used its power -- especially with conservative Democrats in swing congressional districts -- to help force other Democratic leaders to permit a vote that most of them oppose. The prohibition, introduced by Democratic members, including Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Indiana, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, would exclude cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger" (11/7).

Roll Call: "The House is winding down its four-hour debate on the Democratic health care bill and preparing for a final vote after 9:30 p.m. Veteran Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who proceeded over the beginning of the debate, is set to close for the Democrats, who are convinced they now have the votes to pass the bill. ....  

GOP leaders are also keeping a running tally of Democrats planning to oppose the bill. Their latest e-mail lists 33 Democrats who have 'joined Republicans in a bipartisan fashion to oppose Speaker Pelosi's trillion dollar plus overhaul of the nation's health care system'" (Bendery, 11/7).

The Washington Post: "In the first hours of debate, House Democrats saw a handful of key lawmakers who had been wavering come out in support of Obama's most important domestic policy initiative, even as the number of Democrats vowing to vote 'no' also mounted. ... Debate began about 2 p.m., after House Democrats received a pep talk from President Obama and the House voted 242 to 192 to approve the rules of the health-care debate, a vote that officially permitted the chamber to proceed to the substantive merits of the legislation" (Kane, Montgomery and Murray, 11/7).

The New York Times: "Congressional Democrats joined with Mr. Obama in equating approval of the legislation to the push to create Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s, two social programs that serve as party landmarks. 'We are on the cusp of making a historical decision on behalf of the American people,' said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House."

"Republicans were united in their withering criticism of the proposal, which they portrayed as a government takeover of medical care that would damage a struggling economy, lead to job loss and result in the rationing of health care. 'This bill will shackle the American people while empowering the federal government,' said Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, one of scores of lawmakers from both parties to speak during a marathon Saturday session of the House" (Hulse and Pear, 11/7).

The Associated Press: "The bill would cost more than $1 trillion over the next decade. It would provide health coverage to tens of millions of Americans who don't have it now, require most employers to offer it to their workers and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on a person's medical history" (Werner, 11/7).

The Hill: "No Congress has ever come this close to the goal – first proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt – of providing universal health insurance. But the healthcare waters are as perilous as they've ever been for the current group of Democratic leaders. Even on the day that many Democrats have been waiting decades for, and that some have based their entire careers around, a majority of votes for legislation to extend health insurance coverage to 36 million uncovered Americans remained elusive." (Allen and Hooper, 11/7).

The Wall Street Journal: "Democrats predicted a close vote. 'We're looking for 218,' one aide said. 'We're not looking for 220.' ... Some centrist 'Blue Dog' Democrats worried about the bill's cost and reach. The party was strikingly successful at winning seats in conservative districts the past two elections, but as a result many of Democratic members now resist the leadership's more far-reaching goals" (Vaughan and Bendavid, 11/7).

Politico: The phrase 'herding cats' may be a cliché, but it is also a pretty good description of what it takes to secure the votes needed to pass or oppose a difficult bill. Whips and staffers say members may hold out for many reasons, from principles to personality flaws. And even when the numbers look good, a small change in the bill itself, the political climate, or even in a member's mood can upset the balance; a CBC (Congressional Black Caucus) member chokes on a bone thrown to a Blue Dog; a 'leaning yes' turns out to be an 'I didn't have the heart to tell you no'; a freeze-out begins to thaw when the heat's turned up back home; and suddenly it's back to the game board" (Coller, 11/7).

C-SPAN has video of the debate and links to the legislation.

The New York Times in a separate story: "As the House began debate on President Obama's top-priority initiative to overhaul the health care system, protesters outside the Capitol occasionally yelled or waved signs that said, 'Have you heard us yet?'"

"An elderly man held a sign that said, 'Hands Off My Health Care.' Other handmade signs simply said, 'Kill the bill.' Representative John Shadegg, a Republican from Arizona, took a foot-high copy of the House bill to the podium when he spoke. 'This bill steals freedom, and those of us that believe in freedom have contempt for those who would steal our freedom and contempt for this bill,' he said in a shout, heaving the papers to the ground below the low stage" (Calmes, 11/7). 

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.