Congress crams on health-care reform

A man holds a sign on health-care reform during a prayer breakfast on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: About 150 House Democrats were kept late at work yesterday. They were putting in a little extra time to get up to speed on the health-care bill. Joel Achenbach had the story for the Washington Post today. Good to have you with us.

Joel Achenbach: Kai, great to be here.

Ryssdal: Help me out here. What were these guys doing sitting down in the House basement yesterday.

Achenbach: Very unusual thing for these Congress persons because normally they get up and give speeches, but they had to sit there and listen. They had to sit in these little folding chairs in the House basement, and listen to their staff members tell them what exactly is in this health-care reform bill, America's Affordable Health Choices Act. And they had to figure out what is it that we're going to vote on here.

Ryssdal: A rarity in Congress, actually figuring out what's in the bill.

Achenbach: The amazing thing is that they couldn't even ask questions for two-and-a-half hours. They had to just listen. And they could write their questions down on a piece of paper and then later they went through all the questions one by one. This was a marathon session of about five hours interrupted by a procedural vote at 6:30. But this was pretty unusual.

Ryssdal: Theory being that they're going to have to go home and face their constituents on August recess pretty soon. And those constituents are going to ask some questions, and House members want to have the answers.

Achenbach: Not only is there a political component to this, this is a really complicated piece of legislation. They don't want to be accused of voting for something they haven't read. And I think they also genuinely understand it's historic, it's important, they want to get it right.

Ryssdal: It went so far as vocabulary cheat sheets, and all of this stuff. I mean, they really broke it down.

Achenbach: Well, they had a glossary that was handed out with their little packet at the beginning. But it says what is actuarial equivalent, what does that mean, what is adverse selection, what's capitation, you have to know what the F map is, all that kind of thing. This was like a graduate seminar for some of these folks.

Ryssdal: All Democrats, right?

Achenbach: It was the Democratic caucus. Yes. It wasn't so much that they excluded the Republicans, as it was this was organized by the Democratic caucus. And not every House member sat through the entire thing. But the attendance was remarkably good in the hallway. We were not allowed inside, it was all off the record. But we sat in the hallway, and we talked to them when they came out. The one thing that jumped out at me is just how proud they were that they sat there and listened to their staff for so long.

Ryssdal: A teach-in in the basement of the Capital last night. Joel Achenbach is a staff writer for the Washington Post. He blogs for the paper as well. Joel, thanks a lot.

Achenbach: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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