Three or four times a month I will preside over House proceedings. While this can occasionally be repetitious, I find it to be a fascinating window into House operations. There is no better seat to watch the interactions of Members - who is talking to whom; who pays attention when someone else speaks. When there are large numbers of people on the floor you can watch patterns develop. It is a great way to understand House-dynamics.
Occasionally, you get more than you bargained for. Today, my two hour stint in the Chair was made up entirely of one-minute speeches. This is a House procedure where Members from both parties come to the floor, and the two sides take alternating one-minute shots talking about everything from critical issues to commemorating a championship high school softball team, to an announcement of legislation that a Member is introducing.
Sometimes, however, it isn't pretty. Today, I literally watched Republicans become unhinged as they attempted to outdo one another on the "evils" of programs being considered by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. As the Republicans took advantage of the unlimited opportunities for one-minute speeches, dozens of them headed to the floor with competing tales of horror that are allegedly in the Democratic approach to health reform.
I listened as people, theoretically speaking from the same talking points, variously claimed that 4, 5, 6 and even 7 million jobs would be lost as a result of the health care plan. A colleague from Oregon claimed that 114 million Americans would lose their health insurance; that Democrats want to socialize 20% of the economy. In as much as healthcare currently is only 16% of the economy, this is quite a trick. Another Republican talked about how extending health insurance to more than 40 million Americans who currently don't have coverage was somehow going to put government bureaucrats in charge?!
It increasingly became more and more surreal. The Democratic plan would leave Americans no choice but to go to emergency rooms (?). Don't they remember George Bush suggesting that's why we had universal coverage now?
Rep. Todd Akin suggested that there would be a 50% chance that he would be dead if he lived in Great Britain because of their failure to meaningfully treat cancer patients. McClintock from California questioned how the same government that operates FEMA could possibly be efficient. I'm shocked that any Republican would bring up FEMA and the disaster of the Bush Administration for an agency that, until the Republicans got a hold of it, was doing a great job in the Clinton years.
Rep. Broun from Georgia demanded to see the bill, "Show us the bill", "don't hide the bill," at exactly the same time that his colleagues were waving the bill and misreading what was in it. Rep. Buck McKeon admonished people to read the bill and then specifically cited Section 1233. Actually, I know a little bit about this section because it's a bill that I wrote which was incorporated into the overall legislation. His statement was a complete fabrication (check out my myth vs. fact sheet). At least he didn't get to the point that Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina did when she claimed that the Republican approach would be more pro-life because it, "would not put seniors in the position of being put to death by their government!" (emphasis added).
I think it was Vice President Dan Quayle who once said that a mind was a terrible thing to lose. This was certainly two hours that gave me a sense of just how confused and disjointed the Republicans are. I hope that Americans will not have to see what a Party looks like when it comes unhinged and damages this opportunity for improving health care for the nation.
Follow Rep. Earl Blumenauer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/repblumenauer