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Vote Over, Vast Divide Remains

Home News Tribune / MyCentralJersey.com — Monday, March 22, 2010

By RICK MALWITZ
STAFF WRITER

HIGHLAND PARK — Eve Weissman spent Sunday night at home here, watching C-SPAN, the cable television station not known for riveting drama.

"We were confident going into Sunday. We were counting votes up to the last minute," said Weissman, the health-care coordinator for NJ Citizen Action, a 60,000 member advocacy group, with offices here, Newark and Camden.

She described the vote on the health care bill in Congress as a "nail-biter," comparing it to watching Election Night drama.

The final vote in favor of the most sweeping health care reform in the nation's history passed 219-212.

"This was a victory in the making for over a century. For the first time we are saying everyone has a right to health care," Weissman said.

Her opinion is not shared by all.

Richard Piatkowski of Perth Amboy, a Tea Party organizer, said, "I can't believe there are 219 complete morons in Congress, with zero understanding of the financial, medical and social costs of this.

"I'm telling people that all the unions, the teachers and all the public employees ought to get rid of

their $25,000 health care plans and enroll in Obamacare. It's going to save the taxpayers billions," he said.

"There is no bright side to this," said Piatkowski, who called it a victory for the president alone. "It's not about the people, not about the economy, it's all about Obama." While Weissman and Piatkowski watched the political drama unfold, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., was on the floor of the House of Representatives as the vote took place.

Holt, who voted in favor of the bill, said, "Everyone recognized that this was historic, even some of the Republicans.

"Just as Social Security changed old age from a time of destitution in 1935 to a time of dignity, and Medicare led to a time when at least your basic health needs were met, we said, "If you're an American you should have access to good health care,' " Holt said.

On the floor Sunday night it was clear how sharp the division was when the speaker of the special session, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., cited the Democrats who labored long and hard for health care.

"When he invoked the memory of Ted Kennedy, you looked on the other side (to Republicans), and there were sour expressions," Holt said.

The majority of calls to his office Monday were ones of approval, Holt said. Calls on Sunday tended to be positive. Calls on Saturday were even — for and against.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., joined all Republicans in the House with a no vote.

"My constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to this proposal," Lance said .

"We all favor health care reform, but this is not real health care reform with more than a half a trillion dollars taken out of the Medicare, with more than a half a trillion dollars in new taxes," Lance said.

David Larsen, who is challenging Lance in the Republican primary, also attacked the vote.

"Our government and incumbent representatives have just taken away precious freedom from the American people — the right to choose health care. This is just one more step toward a socialist, not a capitalist, system," he said.

The vote came after one of the most contentious debates in American political history — when watching C-SPAN was nearly as dramatic as the weekend games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The vote did nothing to quell the debate, prompting spirited dialogue on the www.MyCentralJersey.com Web site, with most entries critical of the vote.

An entry from a user identified as Macado wrote: "Wake Up !!!!! Obama is a socialist — and is going to damage AMERICA for all that it stands for !!!! Four years will be to long !!!."

An entry from a user identified as Ville83, wrote, "let's just see how it goes before we complain and whine. It's not like things could get much worse then they've gotten. Let's give this new game a try."

The vote was embraced by the New Jersey Hospital Association, in a statement released by its president and CEO Betsy Ryan.

"(Sunday's) historic vote offers tremendous new promise for New Jersey's health care consumers, our physicians and hospitals, and most importantly, for New Jersey's 1.3 million residents without health insurance. A projected 920,000 New Jerseyans could be added to the insurance rolls as a result of this landmark bill."

In 10 years, according to Ryan, the state's hospitals will save $5 billion. Though Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements will be cut, hospitals anticipate having to cover fewer uninsured patients.

Kerry McKean Kelly, association spokeswoman, said, however, "It is a bit of a gamble. We anticipate savings, but there is going to be a long shakedown period," she said.

While the vote in the House Sunday was historic, the next historic vote will come in November and in November 2012, when the electorate casts its vote.

"The risk (to Democrats) is considerable. The fact is that public opinion polls did not support the legislation," Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker said.

"Between now and (November), the president and congressional Democrats will have to make the case that the voters lives have been improved. It will be a test of their salesmanship and their ability to frame the issue, to take away Republican ammunition that it is too big, too expensive and too intrusive," Baker said.

Paul Danielczyk of Woodbridge, a former Republican candidate for Congress and now a Tea Party supporter, said "I have to give the other side credit. They don't take 'no' for an answer.

"If we stick to the facts, stick to the will of the people, there will be big changes in November," he added.

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