Sunday, March 21, 2010

D-Day for Health Care Reform

Barring any last-minute problems, the House of Representatives is scheduled to meet this afternoon for a final vote on health care reform. As the New York Times reports:
With the stage set for a historic showdown over landmark health legislation in the House on Sunday afternoon, the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders winnowed their hunt for votes to a slim list of lawmakers, including several opponents of abortion who were demanding assurance that no federal money would be used to pay for insurance coverage of the procedure.

Democrats late Saturday night said the 216 votes needed to pass the bill were nearly within their reach, but acknowledged that the margin of victory would likely be razor thin even under their most optimistic scenario. Republicans said they still held out hope of derailing the legislation.

The Times has several accompanying stories, including a report on the House Rules Committee's action proposing the terms of today's debate; an account of how health care reform came back from the brink after the Massachusetts special Senate election; a report on the abuse that some anti-HCR protesters directed at black and gay lawmakers at the Capitol yesterday; and a piece on whether ordinary Americans care about the process by which Congress enacts laws. The Times's vote-tracker can be found here. By the end of Saturday, the Times counted 207 members in favor and 206 opposed, with 18 votes still in play.

The Washington Post also has a good story setting the stage for today's climactic debate, as well as an analysis of the political price that Democrats may pay in the November elections for their support of health care reform. Links to several opinion from across the political spectrum can be found in the Daily Kos Abbreviated Pundit Roundup.

Today's House debate will be broadcast on C-SPAN and, with extensive coverage on the cable news channels as well. By the end of the day, we may know whether the Democrats' health care reform efforts will become the law of the land or instead go down to a historic defeat.

Update 1: TalkingPointsMemo has posted a tentative schedule for today's House debate, which shows debate starting on the rule at 2:45 CDT and final votes beginning around 7:00 CDT. Updates throughout the day can be found at the web site's Countdown to Reform Wire.

Update 2: House Democratic leaders this morning claimed that they had -- or at least they would have -- the 216 votes needed. According to MSNBC, the leader of the prolife House Democrats, Bart Stupak, will vote for the bill -- a development that will practically ensure passage, since Stupak may control as many as 8 votes.

Update 3 (12:50 p.m.): It appears that Stupak is still negotiating for a deal on the abortion issue, probably to have the President issue an executive order reaffirming that no federal funds will be used for abortion. So it would be premature at this point to count Stupak as a yes, although two of his prolife allies have indicated today that they will support the bill.

Update 4: At about 3:00 CDT, the White House and the prolife Democrats announced an agreement to end the standoff over abortion. The President has promised to issue an executive order reaffirming current policy that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. At a press conference, Rep. Stupak and his allies declared their support for the bill, which they say is prolife in providing health care to the uninsured and also decreasing the number of abortions. This development virtually ensures that the House Democrats have the votes to pass the health care reform package tonight.

Update 5 (5:35 p.m.): The House has just passed the rule setting the terms for the health care debate. The vote was 224-206, with 28 Democrats and all 178 Republicans voting nay. This was a test vote on the health care reform package, which should pass later tonight by a similar margin, after two hours of debate and another test vote.

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