WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, crossed party lines and joined Republicans Sunday in voting against a massive bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system.
House Democrats pushed the bill to victory by a vote of 219 to 212. The key part of the legislation would provide medical coverage to about 32 million uninsured Americans.
The bill, along with a package of amendments, now goes to the Senate. Republicans there have vowed to try to derail or punch holes in the so-called “reconciliation bill” that emerged from negotiations between the House and Senate.
Edwards, whose congressional District 17 is largely conservative and includes Somervell County, said he voted against the measure because he believed it would make federal deficits worse.
“Given our massive federal deficits and a $12.7 trillion national debt, the bottom line is I don’t believe we can afford a trillion dollars in new health care spending and the increased taxes, Medicare reductions and regulations that go with it, which is a concern I heard everywhere I went throughout our district,” Edwards said in a prepared statement.
He voted “no” on three key votes Sunday: on a rule that set terms of the health care debate; on the Senate health care bill; and on the reconciliation bill.
Edwards added that he tried to “put a stop to the process altogether” when he voted against using the reconciliation process to pass the $940 billion final health care bill, a total that exceeded both House and Senate versions of the legislation.
President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders had pushed the legislation and heralded the House bill’s passage as a landmark moment for the nation’s health care system. The yearlong political debate over reform often was bitter and divided the nation as well as Congress.
Edwards had proposed that the bills should include a “fiscal trigger” that would automatically reduce costs if projections turned out to be wrong.
“I am especially disappointed that my common sense proposal for a fiscal trigger was not included in the House or Senate bills,” he said. “No one can predict with absolute certainty the new costs and cost savings of such a massive reform bill over 10 to 20 years.”
Edwards’ office received more than 30,000 letters, e-mails and calls on the issue from people in the district.
“I believe my ‘no’ vote reflects the views and values of the vast majority of our constituents,” Edward said.
He acknowledged that although some constituents may be disappointed by his vote, the country “needs health care reform that holds down costs and makes it more affordable for businesses and families alike. But I believe Congress should have passed a less expensive, bipartisan bill that could have united, not divided, our nation.”
The final bill would require many employers to offer insurance coverage to employees or pay a penalty. Consumers without coverage could shop for insurance that met federal standards in an “exchange” marketplace set up by each state.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the costs of reform would be offset by Medicare savings and by new taxes and fees.
Supporters said the legislation would make health insurance coverage “a right and not a privilege” for all Americans. But Republicans and Democratic opponents called the reform bill a “fiscal Frankenstein” that would leave states with expensive new obligations and give the federal government too big of a role in the health care system.
Incumbents’ votes on health care reform promise to become weapons in this year’s hotly contested midterm elections.
Republicans Rob Curnock and Bill Flores, who are in a run-off to see who will be challenge Edwards in the November general election, both blasted the Democratic leadership’s health care reform plans.
Curnock said on his Web site that Edwards’ “no” vote is “nice but not enough.” He contended that Edwards should be “working alongside us to sway other members to vote against this, and yet he has been silent, other than saying he will vote against the bill himself.”
Flores said the bills “do more harm than good to reducing the costs and expanding delivery of health care in America.” He said the plans will “increase costs, increase our federal debt, reduce coverage, remove millions of seniors from their current Medicare plans, harm your relationship with your doctor and punish our doctors, hospitals and small businesses.”