Healthcare debate gets off to a rocky start

Debate on the House’s sweeping healthcare legislation got off to a rough, ugly start Saturday. And general debate on the rule that provides for general debate on the bill hadn’t even technically begun.

Prior to an hour’s worth of debate on the rule allowing the healthcare bill to come the floor, dozens of members of the House Women’s Caucus lined up to request “unanimous consent to [later] revise and extend remarks,” and briefly record their objections to the legislation’s restrictions on abortion coverage.

But only a half-dozen Democratic women got the opportunity to quickly register their objections to compromise abortion language, worked out late Friday, before Republicans began trying to derail the exercise.

Republicans charged that the Democrats were simply delaying the official start of the debate because they still lack enough votes. 

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is managing debate on the rule on behalf of the GOP, asked Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) to extend debate by a hour. Slaughter denied the request.

Republicans continued to ask “parliamentary inquiries” – which must be entertained by the presiding officer – looking for any way to stop the parade of women lined up to speak.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the sponsor of the healthcare bill, was presiding over debate on the rule when he got pulled directly into the scrum.

Dingell had received a standing ovation when he limped up to the podium to take the gavel. One of the members applauding most enthusiastically was Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.).

Dreier, though, quickly became part of the litany of Republicans objecting at every turn for at least 30 minutes.

Dingell, who has served in the House since 1955, often seemed to be speaking off the cuff more than from the actual rules of the House in pleading with Republicans to lay their objections aside.

“I’m looking for a way to preside over this somewhat disorderly House,” Dingell said at one point.

During a series of votes immediately preceding the outbreak, Democratic leaders were indeed whipping their undecided members.

But the string of objections from Republicans only served to stall the debate further.

After all Democratic Women got to speak, Republican women followed suit, asking for unanimous consent to revise and extend their remarks about what many called the “freedom-killing, job-killing Democratic healthcare bill.”