As far as I can tell, only Tennessee matched us in having three Democrats actually vote against health care reform – more than any other state. This is pretty embarrassing for a state that voted for Obama for President and where there was an unprecedented battle over the last few months to convince moderate and conservative Democrats to vote for health reform. Make no mistake though – for the other Democrats in the delegation, this was a tough vote. They deserve our thanks and support for making the choice for affordable health care over the cry of the opposition to do nothing.
Reflecting on the vote, one can also find a moral dimension and some irony. Larry Kissell, Heath Shuler, and Mike McIntyre represent some of the poorest parts of our state and have some of the highest percentages of people who can’t afford coverage in their districts. In fact all three have over 20% of people under 65 uninsured in their districts – well above the state average of 17%. For them, a vote against reform was really a vote against people they see and hear from every day. We know they were contacted again and again by people and families all over their districts who can’t afford coverage or have family members who have died or become gravely ill because they couldn’t afford coverage. The irony is that NC Democrats in districts where there were more people with insurance were more likely to vote for the bill.
The battle isn’t over however. The bill the Senate passes will differ from the one in the House and the final bill worked out in conference will again change. Therefore there will be one more chance for McIntyre, Shuler and Kissell to vote for their constituents and against their desire to simply remain in office at any cost. Now that they have declared their true colors, there will be no hiding behind – as they have for months – the mantra that they really care about the people who can’t afford coverage or are losing their jobs but are “looking at the bill” and really do support health reform.
Larry Kissell is an especially strange case. His district voted for Obama last year – unlike McIntyre’s and Shuler’s – and he received extensive progressive support in his election. He can expect to hear from many people who can’t believe he voted the way he did, and he may rethink his position on the final bill.
North Carolina can do better – let’s work to make it happen.