WASHINGTON — Reps. Dennis Cardoza of Merced and Jim Costa of Fresno declared Saturday that they will support a $940 billion health care reform package, moving their fellow Democrats much closer to the finish line.
With the House scheduled to vote on the massive bill today, Cardoza and Costa separately concluded that the legislation will benefit San Joaquin Valley residents at a reasonable cost. Both praised specific health coverage reforms as well as projections that the bill will reduce the federal budget deficit.
"I have had personal, real-life medical experience that told me the time to act is now," Cardoza said.
Cardoza illustrated with family examples. His brother's small business was recently hit with a 75 percent premium increase, Cardoza said, while his sister-in-law simultaneously was denied medical treatment she needed. Cardoza further cited new guarantees about insurance portability when workers change jobs, as well as coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
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Cardoza announced his decision shortly after Costa, who is a fellow member of the moderate Blue Dog coalition.
"I am satisfied that (this) will take life and death decisions away from the insurance companies and protect patient rights," Costa said. "The bill also ensures that patients and our families can receive essential treatment without fear of bankruptcy."
The decisions by Cardoza and Costa put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on the edge of the 216 votes she needs for House approval. The votes also guarantee they will get hit hard by Republicans, who already have prepared ads and talking points targeting certain Democrats.
"I think this is a complete disaster for anyone who votes for it," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, was never on the fence about the bill. He said he'd vote for it, too.
"Now is the time to address the skyrocketing cost of health care in our country," said McNerney, who represents parts of San Joaquin County. "Now is the time to deliver reform for thousands of families who face financial crisis to afford medical care and for the small business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open."
The National Republican Congressional Committee is planning to run cable television ads dubbed "March Madness" in districts where lawmakers vote for the health bill. Republican leaders and their cable television allies cast the San Joaquin Valley Democrats' votes as a "backroom deal" that swapped health care support for an increase in federal irrigation water deliveries announced earlier this week.
"If this isn't using water as a weapon, I don't know what is," Fox News Channel talk show star Glenn Beck said Friday.
Cardoza and Costa say the Interior Department's March 17 water delivery announcement was unrelated to their health care bill decisions. Both have been urging the Interior Department for several months to move up water delivery decisions so farmers have more planning time.
Campaigns by constituents
Both have been hearing plenty from constituents favoring the bill.
Doctors Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Dennis M. Litos, for instance, wrote Cardoza on Thursday to say the 2,000 employees of the Modesto-based facility wanted the legislation to pass. Simultaneously, a Democratic group called Organizing for America was bombarding area residents with e-mails urging them to contact Cardoza electronically.
"They make it so easy," Modesto resident Doug Estes said of the mass e-mail campaign. "The letter is already filled in, and you just hit the button."
As of Saturday morning, roughly two dozen House Democrats were publicly uncommitted. All Republicans are expected to oppose the bill.
Cardoza and Costa had voted for the earlier House health care bill in December but insisted that a final decision would await review of the detailed language and cost estimates released Thursday. The bill is intended to extend health insurance protection to 32 million U.S. residents who lack coverage.
An estimated 22 percent of the residents in Cardoza's congressional district are uninsured. In Costa's district, an estimated 28 percent are uninsured.
Today's action will include an initial vote on a 2,409-page Senate bill, followed by a vote on a 153-page batch of corrections. In an intriguing move, Cardoza joined Republicans in opposing a controversial "deeming" procedure that would have allowed lawmakers to say they did not actively vote for the unpopular Senate measure.
Cardoza, a member of the House Rules Committee, spoke Saturday against the deeming procedure and later announced that it was being dropped.
"We've had sanity prevail here," Cardoza said. "This is something that should be done in the light of day."