House members may have convened Tuesday to debate a Republican-led, just-for-show effort to repeal last year’s health care overhaul legislation.
But many were also watching to see whether the recent massacre in Tucson that left Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded would affect the tone of floor debate – the “atmospherics,” so to speak.
Tuesday’s House session was the first held since President Obama traveled to Arizona last week to eulogize the six dead and those wounded, including Giffords, and make a plea for more reasoned rhetoric from all Americans.
And though neither side conceded the debate and familiar arguments were trotted on both sides of the aisle, House members seemed determined to move with precision and a decided lack of the usual histrionics to an expected Wednesday vote.
(Even Rep. Anthony Weiner, the voluble New York Democrat, failed to get much of a rise out of repeal advocates despite needling them to “read the bill” and suggesting they were still in campaign mode.)
Not that the efficient debate didn’t allow both supporters and opponents of so-called “Obamacare” to restate and remake their cases for an American public that remains divided on the new law.
In fact, Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, now in his 24th term, even sought to appropriate for overhaul supporters the term “Obamacare,” which has been used disparagingly by law opponents.
Conyers pronounced himself, “very pleased to defend…the so-called ‘Obamacare’ bill.” Majority Republicans were just as eager to emphasize the official name of the GOP repeal bill that includes the phrase “job-killing”, even though House Speaker John Boehner, in the wake of the Tucson murders, indicated he was disinclined to use that specific language.
Democrats clearly have sensed an opportunity to recast the overhaul bill. Polls have shown that Obama’s favorability rating has recently risen, and though most surveys show general opposition to the law, there has been some easing in that antipathy.
Tuesday’s debate, said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, was an opportunity to clear up “myths” surrounding the overhaul legislation.His party emphasized people and their coverage; Republicans focused on business owners and doctors.
As the day progressed, the talking points stacked up – and in this vein: Democrats: Republicans are attempting to “take away” coverage and protections for those with pre-existing conditions, adult children on their parents’ insurance plans.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repeal would cost $252 billion over 10 years. Insurance companies will be “popping champagne bottles” if the bill is repealed.
Republicans: The overhaul bill is an unconstitutional government takeover filled with false promises. It would place new taxes on businesses, and force some people to change insurance carriers. It would “blow a hole in the deficit.”
Nothing that anyone who has even paid passing attention to the two-year-old health care debate hasn’t heard before.
But this time, and with the outcome seemingly settled (the majority Republicans in the House will pass repeal, the Senate is unlikely to take it up, and Obama has promised a veto should a repeal bill make it to his desk,) the tone Tuesday was perhaps more restrained than it has been.
But it’s unclear whether that was result of the shock of Tucson, or simply that there were only talking points at stake, and no election looming in the fall. The House is expected to complete its seven hours of debate Wednesday, with the repeal vote later in the day. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.