“But we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what’s in it....”
For Republicans and conservatives, nothing exemplifies government overreach and arrogance more than those 16 words, uttered by then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at the Legislative Conference for the National Association of Counties in March 2010. Ask her about that comment and the ensuing criticism today and Pelosi fights back.
During a lunch in the Capitol with opinion writers today, House Minority Leader Pelosi was asked about those infamous words. “It’s because we didn’t have a Senate bill,” Pelosi said forcefully before Eleanor Clift of Newsweek even finished asking her a question about the statement’s context. “We were urging the Senate to pass a bill.”
Those ten seconds, immortalized by Fox News leave out what Pelosi said in the lead-up to those infamous words:
You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future, not just about health care for America, but about a healthier America, where preventive care is not something that you have to pay a deductible for or out of pocket. Prevention, prevention, prevention—it’s about diet, not diabetes. It’s going to be very, very exciting.
The key line is the first one. It’s easy to forget the tumult of that time. There was a lot of frustration with the Senate version of the health care reform bill and consternation over the proposed process to get it through the chamber with minimal Republican votes, reconciliation.
“In the fall of the year,” Pelosi said today, “the outside groups...were saying ‘it’s about abortion,’ which it never was. ‘It’s about ‘death panels,’’ which it never was. ‘It’s about a job-killer,’ which it creates four million. ‘It’s about increasing the deficit’; well, the main reason to pass it was to decrease the deficit.” Her contention was that the Senate “didn’t have a bill.” And until the Senate produced an actual piece of legislation that could be matched up and debated against what was passed by the House, no one truly knew what would be voted on. “They were still trying to woo the Republicans,” Pelosi said of the Senate leadership and the White House, trying to “get that 60th vote that never was coming. That’s why [there was a] reconciliation [vote]” that required only a simple majority.
“So, that’s why I was saying we have to pass a bill so we can see so that we can show you what it is and what it isn’t,” Pelosi continued. “It is none of these things. It’s not going to be any of these things.” She recognized that her comment was “a good statement to take out of context.” But the minority leader added, “But the fact is, until you have a bill, you can’t really, we can’t really debunk what they’re saying....”
Fourteen days after Pelosi’s speech, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, a law that was passed with not one Republican vote. Now, Americans await a decision from the Supreme Court on whether that law is constitutional. “We’re prepared for every eventuality,” Pelosi said, “including success.”