In a largely unnoticed vote late last week, 13 small government-conservatives backed legislation that could facilitate the emergence of major government-run health care entities.
In an exquisite political irony, 13 Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee offered their support for an amendment that allowed states to set up single-payer health care systems.
The amendment to the committee's health care bill allows states to essentially opt out of a national public health insurance option if they set up a single-payer alternative that meets similar standards for coverage. Offered by one of Congress's foremost liberals, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the legislation enables a system progressives have long desired.
So why would 13 House Republicans, after bemoaning Democratic plans for public health care for months, attach their names to the provision? Depending on who you ask, it's either a philosophical belief in states' rights or childish political shenanigans.
According to those who followed the vote closely, Republicans on the committee were eager to put potentially vulnerable freshmen Democrats -- particularly those from traditionally conservative districts -- on the spot. One plugged-in aide said the GOP lawmakers were "laughing and giggling" throughout the voting process.
But the amendment actually passed, after a host of veteran Democrats on the committee sided with Kucinich. The final tally was 27 Representatives in favor and 19 opposed, with two lawmakers not voting at all. Just how screwy was the vote? Education and Labor Chairman Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) voted against the legislation despite being a co-sponsor of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) bill to set up a national single-payer health care system.
Since then, some of the supportive Republicans have spun their votes as being in support of a states' rights, even though Democrats on the committee insist that was never their intention.
The amendment has the potential to trip up the GOP as the health care debate continues. The text could end up being in the House's final product, once it is merged with the version produced by the Energy and Commerce Committee. And when Republicans claim government bureaucrats will infringe upon the rights of consumers, Democrats will have a solid retaliatory point: 13 GOP lawmakers voted to allow single-payer plans.
In a conference call on Friday, Rep. Miller made direct reference to the amendment as a means of asserting that Republicans weren't honest participants in the health care debate. As one high-ranking Democratic aide in the House put it: "This amendment would allow states to opt out of the exchange and set up their own single-payer plan. Even if they made the states' rights argument -- would that really trump Republicans' opposition to the 'government' run health plan they've been so adamant against through this entire debate?"
The 13 Republicans:
Rep. John Kline (Minnesota)
Rep. Tom Petri (Wisconsin)
Rep. Buck McKeon (California)
Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Michigan)
Rep. Mike Castle (Delaware)
Rep. Mark Souder (Indiana)
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (Michigan)
Rep. Judy Biggert (Illinois)
Rep. Todd Platts (Pennsylvania)
Rep. Joe Wilson (South Carolina)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington)
Rep. Tom Price (Georgia)
Rep. Brett Guthrie (Kentucky)