Health Care Passes House With Abortion Amendment
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Right now, we have two radically different views on health care. The debate in Congress will likely range somewhere between these views in the coming weeks. The first comes from President Obama. He praised the House over the weekend for passing a bill that would extend coverage to millions of Americans.
INSKEEP: The Affordable Health Care For America Act is a piece of legislation that will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance, quality affordable options for those who don't, and bring down the cost of health care for families, businesses and our government, while strengthening the financial health of Medicare. It is legislation that is fully paid for and it will reduce our long-term federal deficit.
INSKEEP: So, that's one view. Now the bill moves on to the Senate where the other view is represented by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
INSKEEP: The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. Just look at how it passed. It passed 220 to 215.
INSKEEP: Lindsey Graham spoke on CBS. We're going to talk about these differing views and more, starting with NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner, who's with us once again. Hi, Julie.
JULIE ROVNER: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What's in the bill the House passed?
ROVNER: Finally, as the president said, the bill would pay for itself, largely through reductions in Medicare spending and a new tax on high-income earners, generally those earning over a half a million dollars.
INSKEEP: So, it promises more to a lot of people. It expects more of a lot of people, including companies, the government, individuals and so forth. But there is the question of whether it could have squeezed some more money out of the health system and I understand that's one of the reasons that Republicans so strongly objected here.
ROVNER: That's right and some Democrats. There were many Democrats who did not vote for the bill, too. Now Republicans, of course, tried to offer their own alternative. It included things that we've seen many times before: limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, letting people buy insurance across state lines. The Congressional Budget Office, though, said that they would only cover about three million people who didn't have insurance, as opposed to the 36 million people in the Democrats' bill. The Republican alternative went down fairly handily.
INSKEEP: Now, there are some other issues that were brought up here. Before the House bill was passed late Saturday night, there was a fight over abortion. What happened?
ROVNER: So there are abortion rights supporters that are furious about this amendment and that they were allowed to offer it.
INSKEEP: NPR's Cokie Roberts joins us for analysis, as she does every Monday morning. Cokie, Good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS: Hi Steve, Hi Julie.
INSKEEP: What's likely to happen with this abortion dispute now?
ROBERTS: But the pro-choice Democrats who voted for the bill are holding their noses, hoping the anti-abortion language might go away in the Senate. I think they have a slim reed to lean on. I can't imagine the end though that they don't eventually go ahead and vote for a health care coverage bill.
INSKEEP: So, were the abortion restrictions basically the price for some essential support here then? Is that a fair way to think of it?
ROBERTS: Of course, exactly. I mean, the speaker was very clear on that. She couldn't pass the bill without the votes of the Democrats who were brought on board with the anti-abortion language.
INSKEEP: Julie Rovner is still listening to us. And, Julie, I'd like to know of once they get out of the specific tactical situation, if there could actually be other changes on abortion in the coming months.
ROVNER: But I think Cokie's right. You would certainly expect, in the Senate, where there's probably less support for abortion rights than there is in the House, I would expect that the Senate would probably adopt this amendment too, now that the House has.
INSKEEP: Julie, thanks very much. That's...
ROVNER: You're very welcome.
INSKEEP: ...that's NPR's Julie Rovner. Cokie Roberts is still with us, because I want to ask about another part of this. There was a lot of talk after Republicans won a couple of governor's races on Tuesday, that this would send a message in Congress, that it would or should - Republicans were hoping - affect the health care debate in some way. Did you see any sense of that or any sign of that as the House prepared to vote on Saturday?
ROBERTS: The White House is constantly making the case that they're better off being bold. But, of course, House members are nervous. Most Americans are happy with their health care. Change could disrupt them rather than help them. And the Senate is even more nervous, as you just heard from Julie, you know, a higher percentage of senators represent heterogeneous constituencies and it's a problem to them.
INSKEEP: Very briefly, a lot of these lawmakers, regardless of the party, must be looking at the economic numbers and wondering what that means for them.
ROBERTS: And that's where Tuesday's election really has had an effect, because people are so worried about the economy, and the president's people say every day he's saying, give me ideas, give me ideas; tell me how I can help to stimulate the economy. They don't want to bandy this about too much until they get health care done.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts who joins us every Monday morning.
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