Politics & Government

Health care bill's winners, losers

WASHINGTON — Winners and losers accompany every bill, especially one as big as the $940 billion health care package approved by the House late Sunday night. Here are some of them.

WINNER: Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced.

Cardoza adroitly played his hand on the House Rules Committee, which sets the rules for considering legislation. He helped fend off a procedural maneuver that arguably would have been bad policy for Congress and bad politics for Democrats.

House Democratic leaders had suggested a special "deeming" or "self-executing" procedure to approve the health legislation. This no-fingerprints-on-the-gun maneuver would have allowed House members to avoid casting an initial vote on an unpopular Senate version. Dissenting from leadership, even as he served on the leadership's committee, Cardoza urged regular order.

"I don't believe it's smart to pass a bill this momentous with a deemed bill," Cardoza said Saturday afternoon.

Shortly afterward, House leaders dropped the intensely controversial deeming idea. They probably had many reasons for doing so, but Cardoza's well-timed opposition was certainly one of them.

LOSER: San Joaquin Valley congressional comity

San Joaquin Valley lawmakers like to cite a tradition of bipartisanship. They can kiss that goodbye for a while, following the health care debate.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, took the gloves off with his March 19 appearance on Fox New Channel's Glenn Beck show. Beck brought Nunes on to allege Cardoza and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, had traded their health care votes for an early Interior Department water delivery announcement.

"These two congressmen, are they getting water for their vote?" Beck asked, having earlier referred to the supposed tradeoff as a "bribe."

"I think it's kind of worse than that," Nunes said. "We're only getting 25 percent of our water for 100 percent of their health care bill."

Nunes then summoned parallels with how Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe had "starved their people of water." Earlier, Nunes had denounced Democrats for their "totalitarian" rule over Congress, a charge Democrats dismissed as overheated.

On the other hand, rhetorical zeal that undermines congressional relationships may play well among constituents. So, in some cases, determining winners and losers may depend on the audience.

POSSIBLE WINNER: Some San Joaquin Valley agricultural employers

The health care bill sets new mandates for employers to offer insurance, or pay a fee if they don't.

But one provision folded into the 2,409-page bill carves out an exemption for those who hire seasonal employees for fewer than 120 days a year. The opaquely worded provision states that the exempted seasonal workers include "workers covered by section 500.20(s)(1) of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations."

The cited provision refers to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. This will save employers money; conversely, it will also mean the seasonal workers are cut out.

But Jack King, manager of national affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation, noted Monday that important questions still remain. The 120-day employment threshold, and ambiguity about how farm labor contractors will be handled, leave uncertain the real-world impact in California.

LOSER: Immigration reform

Realistically, comprehensive immigration reform had a slim chance, at best, of being taken up this year. The divisive issue is a heavy lift for Congress in an election year, and health care obsessed lawmakers have not prepared for immigration.

Now, the rampant partisanship of the health care debate has nailed shut the coffin. Admittedly, some lawmakers might simply want an excuse to duck immigration. Even the stalwart, though, recognize an impossibility when they see one.

"The first casualty of the Democratic health care bill will be immigration reform," declared Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a key supporter.

WINNER: The uninsured

An estimated 6.6 million California residents are currently not covered by health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. Residents of the San Joaquin Valley, in particular, are less likely than others to be protected. An astonishing 28 percent of the residents below age 65 in Costa's Fresno-based district do not have insurance coverage.

The health care bill is intended to extend coverage to those who currently do without.

LOSERS: Democrats in swing districts

Even in the best of times, off-year elections tend to turn out poorly for the party in power. The health care package could give Republican challengers a strong tailwind. None of the San Joaquin Valley Democrats currently face well-funded challengers, but Democrats in other states may be hurting.

WINNERS: Political consultants

See above.

LOSER: Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Nelson dearly loves to be the man in the middle. He's constantly the Democrat considered most likely to vote with the Republicans, thereby ensuring him attention and bargaining leverage.

But when Nelson insisted on a $100 million provision relieving his home state, it quickly was derided as the "Cornhusker kickback." Every legislator uses their leverage to favor their constituents. Nelson's ploy, though, became a symbol for excessive back-room wheeling-and-dealing. Lawmakers dropped it like a hot potato, leaving Nelson with egg on his face while writers scrambled for food metaphors.