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Hyperbole Begins in Rules Hearing on Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON (CN) - In a hearing that seemed more like a family dinner debate, lawmakers met Friday to establish rules for debate when the controversial House health bill is put to the floor Saturday for what is sure to be a fiery floor battle.

"In America, health care should be a right," New York Democrat Charles Rangel said during the House Rules Committee hearing, which was plagued by microphone problems.

Republicans tended to focus on the magnitude of the roughly 2000 page health bill, arguing that it would harm the economy, and calling it a government takeover of health care. They added that it would raise unemployment, and said it would raise taxes by $740 billion over ten years, noting that the Republican bill does not raise taxes.

Democrats pointed to the current system in citing the need for groundbreaking reform and in calling the smaller Republican bill inadequate. They noted that the House bill would greatly expand coverage to the uninsured and that it would lower the federal deficit by considerably more than the Republican health bill.

In promoting the House health bill, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone made reference to discrimination by insurance companies, citing their reluctance to insure people with preexisting conditions and differences in costs based on gender. "But that's not against the law," Texas Republican Pete Sessions said.

Pallone replied, "No, but we would make it against the law. Why do you have a problem with that?" he asked. "Why should a woman pay more than a man?"

"Well, we're all different," Sessions explained. "Why should a smoker pay more," he said before getting interrupted by a burst of chatter throughout the room.

Sessions asked Pallone if he had seen the cost calculations of the Republican health bill. Pallone replied that he had not. "You really don't care do you," Sessions said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, announced Friday that a final floor vote may have to be postponed until Sunday or early next week. Some suggest the delay reflects doubts about whether the bill has enough support yet in the House.

The Democratic and Republican health bills are substantially different in scale. Democrats say their bill would raise taxes by more than $500 billion, whereas Republicans say their bill is tax free.

The Congressional Budget Office analysis show that the Republican plan would extend coverage to 3 million more Americans, but would maintain at 83 percent the proportion of nonelderly insured U.S. residents until 2019, as compared to the Democratic plan, which would grow this number to 96 percent in extending insurance to 36 million people on the same timeline.

While the budget office predicted that the Republican bill would reduce the federal deficit by $68 billion between 2010 and 2019, it said the bill put forward by the Democratic-led Congress would reduce the deficit by much more, at $104 billion.

Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart warned fellow lawmakers against unintended consequences of a large health bill, noting that Medicare was initially predicted to cost $9 billion in 1990, but that it actually ended up costing much more, $70 billion in 1990.

Pallone maintained that the public option would simply add more competition to the market. "Let's see who wins out," he said. "We can come back five years later."

Diaz-Balart asked whether the employee or the employer would be fined if the employee did not select an insurance plan that satisfies the minimum standards.

Ninety percent of employee plans meet the minimum standards now, Pallone said, but did not answer the question. He asked why Diaz-Balart was asking it, suggesting it was a petty issue. He tried to focus the issue back on coverage of the uninsured.

"Every individual policy will have to be checked," Diaz-Balart exclaimed, suggesting there could be difficulties.

Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings drew the conversation back to the need for reform. "Despite this country for the moment being the richest country on earth, the United States rates 45th in life expectancy," he said, citing high levels of infant mortality and depression.

"The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world," Alcee Hastings added, noting the irony.

"I guess we should get rid of the National Institute of health," Hastings said in response to Republican concerns over government involvement in health care. "I guess we should get rid of the Center for Disease Control."

"Does your substitute in the minority leave people uninsured?" Hastings asked.

Dave Camp went into how much the House bill would cost, ignoring the question.

"I'll take that as a no," Hastings said.

Camp replied by saying the House bill leaves 18 million uninsured in 2019, but did not list the Republican number, which the Congressional Budget office put at 52 million in 2019.

"There's no question that your substitute is cheap, but it does little to help uninsured people," Hastings said.

Another of the many points of contention was the debate over how the House bill would affect jobs. Sessions argued that the requirement for businesses to provide health coverage to their employees would result in less hiring.

Rangel, in apparent rebuttal, said that more extensive coverage would create more demand for health care workers, and that this would create jobs.

No official analysis of how the bill would affect jobs has been conducted, and Sessions said one should be done before the House votes on such an influential bill.

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