Republican and Democratic legislators took political punches at each other Thursday during the first house floor debate of the session over a resolution asking Congress to repeal federal health care reform.
Introduced by Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, House Resolution 1003 passed the Republican-controlled Colorado House on a party-line vote of 33-31. It called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that read simply, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and any amendments there to, are repealed.” (The vote would have been 34-30, but Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said she was distracted and mistakenly voted against the resolution when she intended to support the largely symbolic measure.)
The timing of the resolution sparked immediate reaction from House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, who was aghast that Republicans would waste time over a mostly symbolic measure instead of promoting the jobs agenda they had earlier touted as their main objective during this legislation session.
“The first day we’re on the floor, actually doing work, and this is what the House majority puts on the calendar?” asked Ferrandino in disbelief.
“If we’re going to pass this resolution, we should be honest with what we’re doing. If we want to be radical and call a constitutional convention in a letter to Santa Claus, at least let’s get the facts right in the letter to Santa Claus,” the Denver Democrat chided.
Ferrandino, a staunch supporter of federal health care reform, then tried to amend the resolution to say that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would reduce the federal deficit, and that Colorado would lose $30 million in cancer research funding without the federal reform. Both amendments, not unexpectedly, failed on party-line votes.
Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, stood alone as the only Democrat to join Republicans in supporting a repeal of the federal health care law. McKinley acknowledged that the resolution is largely symbolic, but he said his constituents are passionate about repealing the law.
“That’s the way my district thinks, they don’t like mandated government,” said McKinley.
Fellow Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon couldn’t resist getting into the ring himself. Under the guise of being magnanimous, he proposed an amendment crediting the controversial health care program with the person he said was most responsible for its enactment. “I want to give credit where credit is due and I want to talk just for a minute about the person whose vision really inspired this act…” Pabon began in a praise worthy but longwinded speech on the floor.
“This man may be a lighting rod; he may be controversial, but it is him that we can thank for this law that protects against children, protects the elderly, working families and will save our country money in the long run. And so I want to make sure that this man is really truly explicitly recognized in this resolution. This is a man who said that providing affordable health care for everyone is a matter of personal responsibility,” Pabon continued to an eruption of roaring laughter in the chamber as his colleagues began to catch on to his sarcastic wit.
When Pabon brought to light that it was Mitt Romney he was lauding, House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, quickly ruled the amendment out of order.
As governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, Romney signed health care legislation into law that provided near-universal health insurance in his state. The Republican presidential hopeful has since tried to distance himself from the controversial legislation.
The theatrics by Pabon offended Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party. Call said it was inappropriate to draw any connection to federal health care reform and how one particular state handled its problem.
“The assertion that a program originating within a state to deal with the state’s problem … is analogous to a massive federal mandate for health insurance coverage and programs is laughable,” said Call.
Democrats, however, viewed it otherwise. Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, applauded Pabon for drawing the parallel.
“Mitt Romney certainly should be recognized, and it’s definitely something that needs to be raised. If he is the frontrunner right now for the nominee for president, they need to be well aware of the things he’s done in the past, and one of them was offering a piece of legislation that turned into the model for federal health care reform,” Palacio said.
When asked whether he felt Democrats were playing the same partisan games by mocking the Republican presidential frontrunner, Palacio stood firm.
“The barn doors have already been swung open today by the Republicans when it comes to political gamesmanship,” he said. “…They should be doing the work of the people of Colorado.”
Colorado is the first state to pass a resolution calling for an actual constitutional convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to repeal federal health reform. The Texas legislature introduced a similar resolution, but no action has been taken yet on that proposal, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
But the likelihood of the U.S. Constitution actually being amended is slim. Since 1789, it has been amended only 27 times, the last being in 1992. It takes two-thirds of the country’s state legislatures to amend the Constitution.
Stephens and Looper in the Spotlight
Legislators and statehouse observers were on the lookout last week for another potential bout, this one between House Minority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan. The two have been drawn into a primary battle in El Paso County’s House District 19 following new legislative district lines drawn by Democrats and backed by the Colorado Supreme Court during reapportionment.
Conservatives have attacked Stephens for supporting federal health care reform because she introduced Senate Bill 200 last year, a measure that requires the implementation of a health benefits insurance exchange in Colorado. One component of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a requirement that states establish their own individual exchanges, but the mandate is one of the few to have bipartisan support.
Conservatives labeled SB 200 “Amy Care,” and it is expected that the legislation will be used against her in the upcoming primary battle. Looper added in her own jabs this week with her co-sponsorship of Senate Bill 53, which would repeal the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Act.
But Stephens was clear on Thursday that she would still like to see a repeal of the federal law.
“The problem with a mandate such as this is that when we watched on Christmas Eve … the people sat aghast and said, ‘How could this have happened?’” Stephens said during remarks on the floor, referring to the Christmas Eve 2010 U.S. Senate vote that moved the law forward.
Looper also expressed her support for repealing the measure during remarks on the floor. “Many of the citizens of my district are totally opposed to this over-reaching of government taking away their right to determine their health care to get in between the decision of their doctor and their families.”
Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, agreed that the resolution was a symbolic move by Colorado Republicans.
“With recent studies showing Denver has regained less than 50 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession, the State House of Representatives should be focused on creating jobs rather than debating purely symbolic legislation,” said DeGette, a former state legislator. “The Affordable Care Act is already making a positive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Colorado seniors, young adults and individuals with pre-existing conditions, and today’s vote was nothing more than a distraction from the jobs-focused agenda my constituents badly need,” DeGette said in a statement.
Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, also a former state lawmaker, applauded his former Republican colleagues for sending a strong message to Congress.
“I commend the Colorado House Republicans for standing up to a $500 billion cut to Medicare and asking Congress to repeal this unconstitutional law,” he said in a statement provided to The Colorado Statesman. “The president’s health care law has unnecessarily tied the states’ hands and given health care decisions for seniors over to unaccountable bureaucrats. Every state should be sending this message to Washington.”