A Quiet Health Care Repeal Vote

Calls didn't flood the Capitol switchboard Wednesday.

Protesters didn't wield proclamations about death panels.

No one waved yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

Demonstrators weren't lined up to heckle House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as she brandished an oversized gavel.

A couple of lawmakers ventured onto the balcony adjacent to the Speaker's Lobby near the House floor. But not to egg on anti-health care demonstrators. One stepped out to take a telephone call. The other ducked out to smoke.

The House of Representatives voted to repeal the health care reform law late Wednesday afternoon. When Republicans closed the vote, there were brief cheers and applause from backers of the repeal. But the entire exercise was largely somber. Especially compared to the pandemonium that enveloped Capitol Hill last spring. That's when the then-Democratically-controlled House approved the health law following an arduous eight months of negotiations and legislative engineering.

Many House Republicans ran on repealing the health care law last fall. But after the vote, there was no GOP victory lap or celebratory press conference. The debate was muted. The outcome anti-climactic. And at the end of Wednesday, most just packed up and went home for the night.

"There's no one who should feel more euphoria than me," said Rep. Steve King (R-IA), one of the most ardent opponents of the health care law. But the Iowa Republican was circumspect.

"I don't feel like dancing a jig or counting coup on the other side," continued King, who appeared noticeably dour.

It's hard to imagine that a vote on a marquee item of the Republican agenda could unfold so matter-of-factly and with little fanfare. Most blamed the depressed mood on the shroud that still masked Capitol Hill.

"I think Gabby is a part of that," said King, referring to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) less than two weeks ago. "It casts a pall."

And something else pre-occupied Capitol Hill Wednesday.

"I think not only Gabby Giffords but I think Ashley Turton," offered House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) when asked about the melancholy mood.

Turton was a beloved, top-tier former Congressional aide. She was married to White House Congressional liaison Dan Turton. The mother of three children under the age of five, Ashley Turton inexplicably perished last week in a pre-dawn fire that ignited after her car crashed into a garage at low-speed.

But despite the tragedies, many believed the restrained atmosphere reflected the status of a potential health care repeal.

"This is just a milestone along the way," said King, recounting how many more legislative mazes Republicans must manage to undo the health measure.

In late 2009 and early 2010, there was great drama in every vote House Democrats took as they crafted the health care law. In fact, the House okayed the Senate's version of the health package by a vote of 219 to 212 last March. The entire package would have imploded had four Democrats switched their votes. But the outcome on the repeal bill was never in doubt Wednesday.

John Larson offered another theory for the subdued feel.

"This is a hollow mantra and people see it for what it is," said Larson of the House-adopted bill. Then Larson noted that Republicans faced an unenviable trek ahead if they were serious about repealing the law. If the GOP forges ahead, it must navigate the United States Senate.

The Senate is Capitol Hill's version of Mordor in "Lord of the Rings." Like Mordor, the Senate is an unforgiving land for legislation approved by the House. John Larson knows this all too well after the Democrats efforts to muscle the health bill through the Senate. Unlike the Democrats, Republicans don't even have control of the Senate. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared long ago he has no intention to consider any health care repeal plan approved by the House.

But Republicans are still plotting a Senate assault.

For the second time in as many days, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) challenged Reid to summon the health repeal legislation to the floor.

"The American people are tired of the Senate being a place for legislation to go into a graveyard," said Cantor. The Virginia Republican then argued that if Reid had the votes to prevail, then let the bill hit the floor.

Later Wednesday evening, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised a vote on the House plan.

"The Democratic leadership in the Senate doesn't want to vote on this bill," said McConnell in a statement. "But I assure you, we will."

How that happens is anyone's guess. Senate Republicans may try to call up a bill. But all Democrats would have to do is repeatedly object and block the legislation from coming to the floor. Republicans may win some political points that way. But it's a long way from passing the bill through both bodies of Congress.

Back in the House, the usually-hyperbolic House slogged through the health bill repeal. And reporters strained to find a catchy soundbyte in the measured debate.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared the health care law ""the crown jewel of socialism."

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) raised eyebrows Tuesday night when he likened GOP claims about the bill to Nazi tactics.

"They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels," Cohen said. "The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it....believed it and you have the Holocaust."

During her speech, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told the House about Pat Maisch and her trip to Safeway to tell her Congresswoman to "stand up to attempts to appeal health care reform."

Wasserman Schultz said Maisch never got to deliver her message. A few minutes later, Maisch knocked the second clip of ammo out of the hands of Jared Loughner and is credited with saving many other lives.

"Heed the words of Pat Maisch," Wasserman Schultz told the House.

The sedate House launched the repeal vote around 5:45 pm Wednesday. And a few minutes later, the GOP voted to repeal the health law, 245 to 189.

Only one member of the House did not vote: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.