Vignettes from the health-care battle

Monday, March 22, 2010

Digging in on Capitol lawn

Just a few hundred people remained on the south lawn of the Capitol on Sunday as the sun began to set, following two days of coordinated chanting, taunting of lawmakers voting for the health-care bill, and spirited conversation among people for and against the measure.

"We'll remember in November!" some chanted. Others yelled, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Obamacare has got to go!" One group made their bodies form the word "No" below the members' balcony.

Signs included "Obamanomics: Trickle Up Poverty" and "Why die waiting for a procedure? Kill the bill!"

The mostly anti-reform crowd was joined by a few bill supporters, eager to engage the protesters. One man in favor of the legislation engaged a woman opposed to it in a heated discussion in sight of reporters, Hill staffers and Capitol Police.

"The bill is corrupt!" the woman said several times, as the man disagreed, waving a finger in her face. Another man tried to defend her, and a Capitol Police officer eventually approached to prevent the conversation from becoming more heated.

Across the street in the Longworth House Office Building, the halls were mostly empty. Recently emptied pizza boxes sat outside offices of the House Agriculture Committee, and one staffer was seen carrying a six-pack of Yuengling beer toward the office of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) crossed the street back to his Longworth office listening to his iPod. Another colleague carried a copy of the 2,300-plus-page bill with him into the building.

-- Ed O'Keefe

A 'historic' family affair

Standing in a hall just off the House floor Sunday evening, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson remarked on how excited he was to "be a part of a historic occasion" as Congress closed in on passage of health-care reform.

Also, he wanted to do some bragging.

Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), presided over a good portion of the House debate Sunday, refereeing from the speaker's chair. That task entailed dealing with frequent procedural objections from Republicans, including repeated parliamentary inquiries on issues large and small.

"I wanted to watch my son preside," the elder Jackson said. "I've been impressed."

The elder Jackson was the District's shadow senator for several years, but he never served in Congress. So where did his son pick up so much knowledge of parliamentary procedure?

"From his mother," Jackson said with a laugh.

-- Ben Pershing

2 arrested in gallery

Two people were arrested in the House gallery on Sunday and charged with disruption of Congress, according to Lt. Raymond Howell, the afternoon watch commander of the Capitol Police.

He said that both had yelled "Kill the bill" and that neither resisted removal from the gallery. Disruption of Congress is a misdemeanor.

Howell said that as of 4:30 p.m., no other arrests had been made in connection with the health-care reform deliberations and related protests. He added that no arrest resulted from an incident Saturday, in which a protester spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), because of "lack of positive identification."

-- R. Jeffrey Smith

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