In the final minutes of what was an entire day of debate on the floor of the House of Representatives, the American people were given the opportunity to witness both political cowardice and courage.
Though it may have been predetermined by a series of compromises, in the final minutes of the roll call vote on health care reform, Representative Joseph Cao (R-Louisiana) surprised many when he cast his vote in favor of the Democratic plan. While Cao was casting his vote, a few Democrats were watching the numbers closely before casting their own votes against their party's bill. They didn't want to vote for the bill, but they didn't want to be the vote that kept their party from passing this historic legislation. While Joseph Cao was illustrating political courage, with no help from Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) who continued to try to persuade Cao against voting with the Democrats until the very end, a handful of Democrats sat idly by, demonstrating not an ounce of political courage as they hoped there vote wouldn't matter in the final tally.
Thirty-nine Democrats including Idaho's own Walt Minnick voted against the Democratic bill, doing so for a wide variety of reasons, apparently none of which were allayed by the unnecessary and reprehensible Stupak amendment. Of the thirty-nine Democrats who voted against the Affordable Health Care for America Act, eight of them hail from districts that voted for President Obama in 2008.
There were plenty of moments throughout the debate that offered insight into the politics, character, and unfortunately, ignorance, of individual members of the House. We were reminded that some Republicans would rather shout their objections in every attempt at obstructionism than listen to the comments of their Democratic counterparts who were given the floor. We were privy to the absolute idiocy of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who alarmingly believes that all Americans currently have health care. We were reminded that some Republicans will go to any lengths to make their misinformed points about health care reform, including bringing a baby to the floor of the House. And the House once again recognized Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and allowed him to make a spectacle of a legal medical procedure that the Republicans (also sadly, a sixty-four Democrats) would like to prevent every woman in America from having available to them, payed for privately or not.
Yet, in the myriad of moments that illustrated everything that is wrong with the intense political atmosphere that unfortunately accompanies any attempt to help average Americans attain affordable health care, there were several moments that reminded us that we do send representatives to Washington, D.C. that want to serve their constituencies well.
It was an honor to watch Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan) both open and close the debate on the bill he has introduced in every one of his terms since he came to Congress. Dingell's legs may be shaky, but his voice and resolve is solid. He, like his father, has supported this cause for longer than many of us have been alive. Rep. Dingell deserved every bit of praise offered him and deserves the thanks of the American people for his steadfastness and dedication. Though health care reform has been needed since President Theodore Roosevelt first proposed it near the beginning of the twentieth century, reform has not always been popular and it has never been easy. It takes great political courage to devote your time, energy and entire career to a cause that until now has been a failure. Rep. John Dingell is the epitome of political courage.
The Democrats, including Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), who refused to vote for the Democratic bill, resemble nothing but political cowardice. Their cries for the legislation to be deficit neutral were answered. Their cries for a bill that would not include federal funding for abortions were answered. Their cried for legislation that would not force all Americans into a government plan were answered in the earliest days of discussion. Yet they balk. The Blue Dog Democrats who could not vote for this legislation on the basis of cost, the disingenuous quality of imploring fiscal responsibility, and the manner in which the government would be involved in the distribution of care would never have voted for the Social Security Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Americans with Disabilities Act or SCHIP, and therefore are not justified in calling themselves Democrats.
The truth of the matter is, representatives like Walt Minnick, John Tanner (D-Tennessee), and Mike Ross (D-Arkansas) have no interest in the true welfare of their constituencies. Under the guise of fiscal responsibility and an unwarranted fear of big government, the Democrats who voted against health care reform further protected big business, big pharma, and the health care industry executives who have funneled campaign funds to them over the years. There is nothing politically courageous about that.
Joseph Cao knows something about political courage, if he didn't before what may end up being the most important vote of his political career, he definitely does now. And for the others, those who portrayed nothing but political cowardice as they waited for the final numbers to come together before casting their vote, they probably should take a lesson on political courage before their next important vote comes around.