It's Been Real
Scenes from the Capitol in the final showdown over health care reform.
12:32 a.m.—Barely a minute had passed after the final vote on health care reform before members of Congress started streaming out of the Capitol. Republicans mostly kept their heads down. But a few Democrats dallied—partly to gloat, partly to pre-empt the electoral doomsayers.
"I feel more than gratified," said Rep. John Lewis. "I feel like we're on the side of the angels."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., described Sunday's vote as just the first step in a Democratic surge. "If we pass this and regulatory reform, this notion that liberals have to stay home in November becomes much less plausible."
Republicans focused their frustration on Rep. Bart Stupak, whose switch from "no" to "yes" after President Obama promised to sign an executive order prohibiting federal money from being spent on abortions pushed the Democrats over the 216-vote threshold. "Stupak has to explain why he's no longer pro-life," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as he exited the chamber. At one point during Stupak's floor speech, someone shouted, "Babykiller." Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., who was presiding as speaker at the time, said he saw who shouted it but preferred not to snitch. "Members have a right to make an idiot of themselves once without being identified," he said.
Lewis, who reportedly had racial epithets shouted at him by anti-reform protesters over the weekend, declined to focus on the anger over health care reform: "When historians pick up their pens to write the history of this period, they'll say a major party forgot about politics and did the right thing."
11:12 p.m.—Everyone knew the votes were there. And they were: The Senate health care bill passed the House on Sunday night, 219-212.
The final speeches by party leaders were therefore less about swaying votes one way or another than putting a final stamp on the legislation.
Republicans chided their Democratic colleagues for flouting the will of the American people. "Some say we're making history," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind. "I think we're breaking history."
Democrats invoked history, too. "This is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared the vote to the historic passage of Medicare and Medicaid.
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor criticized the Democrats' failure to achieve bipartisanship: "The only bipartisanship has been in opposition," he said. He also claimed the bill would drive up the cost of health care, use federal funds to pay for abortions, and pile debt onto future generations. (The CBO says the bill will reduce the deficit by more than $1 trilllion over two decades.)
Pelosi thanked President Obama and Edward Kennedy in her speech. She predicted that reform would "unleash an entrepreneurial spirit" in America. (Republicans laughed.) She got philosophical about what brought Democrats to this vote, riffing on an earlier line from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.: "We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us."
Minority Leader John Boehner used his time to deride the process that led to the bill's passage. "Can you say it was done out in the open?" he asked. His rhetorical device at times backfired. "Do you really believe that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it?" "Yes!" shouted Democrats. Boehner fired back, "You can't!" "Yes we can!" yelled Democrats.
When the vote tally reached 216, a cheer went up stage right. Democrats hugged and kissed. Republicans stood with crossed arms. It didn't take long for Democrats to settle on their victory chant: "Yes we can!"
AP Video: The House vote to pass health care reform.
6:48 p.m.—Finally, a vote on health care. The "rule for debate" has now passed the House, 224-206. That doesn't necessarily mean the health care bill itself will pass by that margin, but it's a sign that 224 Democrats don't mind moving the process forward. Twenty-eight Democrats voted against it.
Now begins two hours of debate: one for Democrats, one for Republicans.
6:10 p.m.—The historic passage of health care reform may be an exciting moment, but Congress seems determined to make the process as unexciting as possible.
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.