Will it last? Health care repeal debate takes on civil tone

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 18, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The Republican-led House of Representatives will vote Wednesday to repeal the sweeping 2010 health care law, but the debate on repeal was far more civil — if still spirited and partisan — than the strident rhetoric that's colored Congress in recent years.

The repeal effort is largely symbolic, as GOP lawmakers are eager to show their supporters that they're ready to act on campaign promises of last fall. The repeal is likely to fail in the Democratic-majority Senate, however, forcing Republicans to attack the law piecemeal in coming months.

Meanwhile, the polarizing issue gave House members their first chance to display whether they've learned any lessons from the national trauma that followed the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, which killed six and wounded 13, including one of their own members, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, critically wounded with a gunshot through her head.

The tone of House debate was notably different from last year's health care brawl, which featured thousands of protesters chanting outside the Capitol and incited, in various parts of the nation, threats of violence against lawmakers, including Giffords.

Tuesday's rhetoric, though, resembled an old-fashioned Capitol debate. Each side came ready with facts, anecdotes and hyperbole, but no personal vitriol.

Repeal "will take away new rights and freedoms, put insurance companies back in charge and balloon the deficit," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

No, said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the law "expands the dependency state in America for political reasons."

Such rhetoric is hardly unusual at the Capitol. But nowhere was the tension that gripped the House for the past two years.

In September 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., shouted "You Lie!" during President Barack Obama's health care address to Congress. Wilson quickly apologized.

During the House health care debate last March, King and others went to a Capitol balcony and egged on demonstrators below.

Lawmakers around the country reported threats and violent incidents, including Giffords, a health overhaul supporter whose Tucson office was vandalized the night of the House vote.

Each party's leaders blamed the other for the tension. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., now the House majority leader, specifically named two Democratic officials as "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."

Tuesday, however, Cantor had a far more conciliatory tone. He talked about the need for "civil discourse" and the need for "decency."

Conservative groups Tuesday quietly presented thousands of petitions from around the country urging repeal.

Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots national coordinator, recalled how conservative members of Congress were able to spread the word on talk shows and mobilize a big angry crowd against the bill's passage last year.

This time, though, the effort was different — since Republicans have a 242 to 193 House majority, she said, "We will enjoy tomorrow very much."

Tuesday's debate on the House floor and all over Capitol Hill was all about pounding home well-honed talking points.

Democrats held their own hearing on the repeal, and witnesses included a breast cancer survivor, a hemophiliac, a pediatrician and the mother of a college student with pre-existing conditions. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced them as "the real faces of reform."

The Department of Health and Human Services released a report that as many as 129 million people, or about half the under-65 population, have a pre-existing condition that could jeopardize their ability to get insurance.

The 2010 law makes it illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of such conditions.

Republicans fired back, deriding the Obama administration's claims as overblown, though they offered no specific evidence to contradict the HHS report.

They also charged that the law will cost the nation jobs and increase federal deficits, despite reports from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Congressional Research Service that suggest otherwise.

And, they said, the bill is highly unpopular. "Millions of Americans screamed out loudly they don't want this,'' said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

However, a Jan. 6-10 McClatchy-Marist showed that 49 percent of Americans favored keeping the health care law the same or expanding it, while 43 percent favored repealing or changing it so that it does less.

ON THE WEB:

HHS report on people with pre-existingconditions

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Experts doubt GOP claim that health care law's a 'job killer'

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Obama accepts Joe Wilson's apology for 'you lie' outburst

GOP's Cantor says Democrats exploiting reports of threats

Words, and now bricks, thrown at lawmakers over vote

For more McClatchy politics coverage visit Planet Washington

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