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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Health Care Takes an "Ugly" Procedural Turn

March 18, 2010

Health care reform is moving toward a final vote later this week, and all indications are that it will be controversial and close.

President Barrack Obama and the Democrats have come under a great deal of media scrutiny for the procedural way they have handled the legislative process. They are in complete control of Congress, and thus can set the timetable as to when a vote will be taken.

The cable news networks are providing round-the-clock coverage of the expected vote count, and providing color commentary as though it were the upcoming Super Bowl.

Some, including the President, have argued the public doesn’t care much about the Washington political process. Yet Republicans insist the President and his men, and congressional Democrats, have maneuvered in the shadows and behind closed doors, to get their health care bill passed, despite widespread disapproval on the part of the public.

Republicans say the bill is too costly, that it won’t fix the problem of spiraling health care costs, and the bill, if passed, could damage the quality of the care in the country.

Opinion polls have consistently shown the public is not in favor of the bill, despite months of talk and debate from all sides. Polls also show that voters remain confused as to what’s actually in the bill, and also how it will impact their current health care coverage.

The President says everyone will know what’s in the bill when it’s voted on, although he does admit the legislative process has been "ugly". This so-called "ugly" process is one of the reasons voters remain skeptical of the bill.

Few will argue with the President’s objectives. He wants to bring stability and security for those who already have health insurance, and guarantee affordable coverage for those who don’t have it. He also wants to rein in the cost of health care.

The President wants to make sure health insurance companies can’t deny benefits to those with preexisting medical conditions, and he wants to limit discrimination by insurance companies based on gender and age.

A new voting procedure was unveiled this week, and it has all of Washington in an uproar. House Democrats introduced  something called the "deem & pass" strategy, a maneuver that would allow the House to pass health care despite the fact they don't have enough votes to do so.

The House majority sets the rules under which votes are taken, and parliamentary moves are not unusual. However, the "deem & pass" approach, would allow the House to approve amendments to an already passed Senate health care bill, then simply "deem" the bill  passed (without actually voting), and send it to the President for his signature.

Republicans argue this procedure would be unconstitutional, and court challenges will be certain.  A vote on health care is likely soon, and voters will be watching both the substance and the process of the vote.

The public wants an open, fair, and above board process, and the political fallout could be swift and enormous if voters perceive that isn’t going to be the case, especially on something as important as health care.

Let’s hope both sides get the message and do not try to manipulate the process in either direction. The public deserves a straight forward, up and down, roll call vote.

That should be something everyone can agree on.