The controversial health care reform bill passed in the House by the squeaky close vote of 220 to 215 late on Saturday night. The days before the vote were marked by protests and demonstrations on the Capitol steps, and significant numbers of Americans have expressed open animosity toward more government control of the health care system. President Obama will not be able to sign this legislative baby tomorrow though. Serious negotiations lie ahead as the Senate works to develop its own version of health care reform, and the two bills don't promise to look very much alike.
With only one Republican voting in its favor, those in favor of the House bill definitely fell along party lines. Yet, not all Democrats have been following their party leaders. A group of 64 socially conservative Democrats voted with Republicans to include an amendment that would exclude the public funding of abortions, and another 39 Democrats just plain voted against the bill itself. As federal deficits soar high, fiscally concerned Republicans and Democrats alike are unwilling to pour vast amounts of dollars into what Eric Cantor of Virginia called, " this gargantuan, trillion-dollar overhaul."
What would the bill do? The 1,990-page House health care bill is twice the size of the one the country railed against in August. It would mandate people to carry health insurance, and would make Medicaid available to a larger group of people, as well as create a network of state-run healthcare exchanges. There's a lot more to it, of course, hence the 1990 pages. According to Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), the passage of the bill into law would result in the following:
"• $730 billion in new taxes on individuals and small businesses, including penalties for those who cannot afford coverage that meets the government's standards.
• $1.2 trillion in new federal spending over ten years with hundreds of billions inevitably added to the federal budget deficit.
• The creation of 111 new federal offices and programs to oversee and run the new health care bureaucracy.
• Over $500 billion in Medicare cuts over ten years resulting in the loss of Medicare Advantage benefits for some seniors.
Nearly 5.5 million Americans could lose their jobs as a result of the tax mandates in the Speaker's health care bill."
States like California, already swamped in debt and struggling with their current Medicaid load, are already wondering how in the world they could survive the healthcare overhaul.
"Our number one concern is just the fiscal reality that we can't afford our current program," said Toby Douglas, chief deputy director of health care programs for California, at a conference of state Medicaid directors on Tuesday. "We can't afford expansion."
There is another option. The Republican alternative plan is massively shorter and avoids placing a new unbearable fiscal burden on the taxpayers. Instead of a government take-over of healthcare, the bill would work to ensure that healthcare is more affordable and make it harder to take advantage of the system. It would focus on stopping the abuse of medical malpractice lawsuits and would allow Americans to cross state lines to buy insurance. It would help small businesses to pool together to get better insurance for their employees at better prices. Plus, it would prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.
While the bill has passed in the House, it still faces the Senate. The Senate version of the bill is already destined to look a great deal different than the House bill, and not necessarily in good ways. On the one hand, the Senate is hostile toward the pro-life amendment that nixes any potential for taxpayer funding of abortions. On the other hand, conservative senators are determined to simply put the bill to death.