After months of acrimonious partisanship, Democrats closed ranks on a 220-215 vote that included 39 defections, mostly from the party's conservative ranks. But the bill attracted a surprise Republican convert: Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana, who represents the Democratic-leaning district of New Orleans and had been the target of a last-minute White House lobbying campaign. GOP House leaders had predicted their members would unanimously oppose the bill.
Naturally the 220-215 vote didn't come without a hitch.
Down one floor, in her office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi desperately tried to deal with an issue that has bedeviled Democrats for more than a generation — abortion.
After hours of heated talks, the people she was trying to convince — some of her closest allies — burst angrily out of her office.
Her attempts at winning them over had failed, and Ms. Pelosi, the first woman speaker and an ardent defender of abortion rights, had no choice but to do the unthinkable. To save the health care bill she had to give in to abortion opponents in her party and allow them to propose tight restrictions barring any insurance plan that is purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.
On a positive note, Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, slipped in a little gem.
Lower taxes for gay couples who receive health benefits from employers. Nutrition labeling requirements for snack food sold in vending machines and many restaurants. A new program to teach parents how to interact with their children.
Supporters of gay rights have long been trying to change the tax treatment of health benefits provided by employers to the domestic partners of their employees. In effect, such benefits are now treated as taxable income for the employee, and the employer may owe payroll taxes on their fair-market value.
Under the bill, such benefits would be tax-free, just like health benefits provided to the family of an employee married to a person of the opposite sex.
The health care bill now goes back to the Senate. We'll see how they grind it up before voting. We appear to be moving forward... with something.