In a passionate seven-and-a-half minute plea to colleagues on the House Rules Committee, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) asked the new Republican leadership to allow up-or-down votes on key aspects of the sweeping health care reform.
Welch is spearheading a campaign to allow the new Congress to vote on individual aspects of health care reform measures, in an effort to preserve:
• The elimination of lifetime limits on care;
• Coverage of individuals up to 26 on their parents’ health care plans;
• A ban on discrimination against those with preexisting conditions; and,
• Free preventive care for seniors.
To date, 65 House members have signed onto Welch's push to allow these items to be voted on separately from the entire piece of health care reform legislation. Welch took his plea directly to the House Rules Committee, which establishes the guidelines for how each piece of legislation is voted on and debated.
In his introduction, Welch congratulated Republicans on their November victory. "Now the question, now the challenge is whether you can govern responsibly. This is going to set the template for the entire 112th Congress," said Welch.
Noting that the GOP ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, Welch asked where they would find $230 billion in cuts given that repealing parts of the health care reform legislation is estimated to add $230 billion back to the federal deficit, according to the impartial Congressional Budget Office.
"You've made criticisms, and some of those criticisms we agree with," said Welch. "I hope we can find a way to improve it. But, why would we in the quest to improve it, destroy things that are now actively making a difference for people who are depending on it."
Welch offered several stories he heard from Vermonters about the impact of ending free preventive care.
He recounted the case of a 64-year-old Vermonter who just this week visited a doctor at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington and was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. Because the patient was waiting to qualify for Medicare before seeking preventive screenings, his cancer was caught too late.
“This is real,” Welch said. “The decision that you are making is real. This is not campaign rhetoric. You know, you won the campaign and you were effective in your arguments, but you are making a real decision. You are part of the United States Congress, and the policies we make are not about campaign rhetoric. It’s not about the next election. It’s about what’s going to happen to this Vermonter who now has metastatic colon cancer that could have been detected," said Welch. "There are simple things in this bill that are important to the people you represent and the people I represent, and it is absolutely unnecessary to take those securities away from the middle class of this country.”
Welch told his GOP colleagues while their constituents may have elected them to repeal some elements of the health care bill, the people who voted for him want him to defend the bill.
* Update *
Today, the House Rules Committee denied Welch's request to allow amendments to be offered next week when lawmakers take up the repeal of last year's health care reform law.
"The fix is in," Welch told Seven Days. "They promised a deal during the campaign to make the process more open, and the first rule that comes up instead closes down the process. Look, the GOP has the majority and has the power to get their way and that's just the way it is. Our job is to point out explicitly what that does to Vermonters and the American people."
Welch said the GOP has some valid criticism of how Democrats similarly denied amendments on major pieces of legislation. "I agree with them on some of that criticism, and I'm one that is much more in favor a fully open process. The problem in Congress is that in the last 10 to 15 years, the process has been closed down too much."
Welch sees little hope that any GOP colleagues will join him in criticizing the decision to deny amendments to the health care repeal vote.
"They are united in repealing it and united in their denial about how this will have a real world impact on middle class families," said Welch. "They are getting rid of some key items like preventative care and access to insurance with preexisting conditions. They should live up to it and own it."