House Debates Health Care Overhaul
GUY RAZ, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz, reporting this weekend from the studios of NPR West in Southern California.
In Washington, the House is nearing its final vote on two bills that could bring the most sweeping changes to health care in decades. Democrats are confident they'll prevail, but at this hour, those bills are being held up by parliamentary challenges from Republicans.
Throughout the day, legislators have been taking to the floor of the House to offer their final thoughts. We'll hear the voices of Republicans Marsha Blackburn and Paul Ryan and then Democrats Patrick Kennedy and Sheila Jackson Lee.
Representative MARSHA BLACKBURN (Republican, Tennessee): My colleagues are celebrating the birth of a great, new entitlement program today. Only they see dependency on the federal government and the death of freedom as a cause for celebration.
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): We can do better. It doesn't have to be this way. This is not democracy. This is not good government.
Representative PATRICK KENNEDY (Democrat, Rhode Island): Health care is not only a civil right, it's a moral issue.
Representative SHEILA JACKSON LEE (Democrat, Texas): Today, we will heal this land, and we will vote for the health care bill.
RAZ: Joining me now from Capitol Hill is NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook, and Andrea, a dramatic, last-minute announcement from one of the Democratic holdouts, Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak.
ANDREA SEABROOK: Yes, Bart Stupak is the most pro-life member of the House. He is the one who is most opposed to abortion rights. And all along during this health care debate, he has been holding out for language that could make it very clear that this bill does not allow federal funding for elective abortions.
So at the last minute, the president comes out and says he will sign an executive order that says that this language in this bill does not provide for government funding of elective abortions, and that signs on Bart Stupak and several other conservative Democrats who said they - all along that they really wanted to vote for the bill, but they just couldn't on good conscience.
It's very interesting to see this coalition come together at the last minute. And Bart Stupak said this puts them well beyond the 216 votes that they need, that Democrats need to pass this bill tonight.
RAZ: So they think it's a done deal now.
SEABROOK: They think it's a done deal. Now remember, this is the House of Representatives. There are all kinds of rules that can be brought up as stalling tactics, and so far, the Republicans have pulled out everything they have.
Just moments ago, we saw almost a Conga line, they call it, on the House floor of members coming down to the mic, Republicans, say, asking for a few days to revise and extend their remarks. It's just a normal procedure, but when 200 members get up and do it over and over again, taking 10 seconds each, it really delays the proceedings, and so that's what we're watching now.
RAZ: And so can we expect more of that this evening?
SEABROOK: Absolutely. I think we should expect both sides to do everything in their power to get what they want. I mean, there's no question but that this is absolutely history in the making, whether it passes or fails, and both sides are there in the moment trying to do what they think is right.
RAZ: So Andrea, if the vote does happen tonight, and we still think it's going to happen tonight, right?
SEABROOK: We still think it's going to happen tonight. The House is just about finished debating the rule that will govern debate on the health care bill, and so if that passes, then we'll have two hours of debate on the actual health care bill.
RAZ: And if the House approves these bills, what happens next?
SEABROOK: What happens next is the president has to sign the Senate bill that, admittedly, most people in the House hate. The Senate has to sign that in order for the I'm sorry. The president has to sign that in order for the Senate to take up the changes the House will have passed to that Senate bill. It's called reconciliation.
So the order of operations here is the House passes these things, the president signs the Senate bill, the House takes up the changes that the I mean, sorry, the Senate takes up the changes that the House made. The president signs those. And then the package will go through, that's if everything goes according to plan.
RAZ: And that presumably can happen by the end of this week.
SEABROOK: That is Democrats' hope, absolutely, and that is what they say will happen. It appears now that one of the final and biggest roadblocks to that happening has been swept away with this executive order from the president.
RAZ: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook on Capitol Hill. Andrea, thanks so much.
SEABROOK: You're welcome, Guy.
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