The Health Care Repeal: When Bill Murray Meets George Orwell
By Chad Pergram
It's not often that a film starring Bill Murray plows headlong into the works of George Orwell.
But on Capitol Hill, a Murray/Orwell mash-up is practically comme il fault when lawmakers grapple with an issue as incandescent as the repeal of the health care reform law - just days after the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional.
The House of Representatives launches a two-day debate today to rescind the controversial statute - known formally as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - and maligned by detractors as "Obamacare." House Republicans plan a vote to eliminate the law Wednesday. But this is old hat. Lawmakers have voted more than 30 times to either expunge, derail, curb or defund the law since the GOP seized the House's helm in January, 2011.
That legislative treadmill was enough to drive Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to cite Murray's screen work at a Monday meeting of the House Rules Committee where members prepped the latest repeal effort for debate.
"It's like Groundhog Day around here," said Pallone of the 1993 hit comedy starring Murray. "It just seems like almost every other day we have another effort to repeal the same thing over and over again."
When it came her time to speak at the hearing, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) elected not to invoke Murray's work in Groundhog Day - let alone anything he did in Meatballs, Ghostbusters or even on Saturday Night Live. Instead, Foxx settled on Orwell's autocratic novel as her benchmark for the health care law engineered by President Obama and Congressional Democrats.
"I think my colleagues should read the book Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of rewriting history and how you make things sounds great that are not great," said Foxx. "I think we are living through that experience."
Foxx said Americans would "gain our freedom again" through repealing the Affordable Care Act. Before finishing her screed, the North Carolina Republican then stared at Pallone, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) and Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) - sitting just feet from her at the witness table - and likened their legislative efforts to the tyranny propagated in Orwell's fictitious land of Oceania.
"The difference between the liberals in this country and the conservatives is the issue of freedom," lectured Foxx. "You and your colleagues want the government to control every aspect of our lives."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had just entered the room and could barely contain herself.
"That's not true," she blurted.
And just like Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Rules Committee to repeal health care reform become a paradox. The debate devolved from a quip about a lighthearted date movie to a graduate-level seminar on dystopian literature. Rumor had it that The Handmaid's Tale and A Clockwork Orange were on the Rules Committee's syllabus for later this semester.
"That was pretty harsh," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to Foxx. "I'm pretty sure I've been called a big brother totalitarian who wants to take everybody's freedom away."
Rob Andrews practically suggested that the GOP's deployment of the term "death panel" was a perfect example of Orwell's newspeak.
"It is false and always will be false," said Andrews, himself bordering on doublespeak.
"I think her comment in using Nineteen Eighty-Four demonstrates how very difficult it is to get anything done here," lamented Sander Levin.
Pallone noted that it was ironic that Foxx focused on Orwell because he was busy reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in his spare time.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) suggested that he thought lawmakers were "talking past each other."
And that's what one can expect over the next couple days on the House floor. Republicans will contend that even though the Supreme Court found the health care law to be constitutional, that doesn't mean it's good policy and will fight for a repeal.
"It's now the job of Congress to repeal Obamacare," said Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA).
Democrats will argue that Republicans are wasting precious time that could be devoted to fixing the economy.
"What we're doing is making political points," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
Slaughter may be onto something.
Republicans rode the furor over the health care law to victory in the 2010 midterm elections. They hoped to recapture that magic again this year, vowing to redeploy the contretemps over the law this fall. Many Republicans anticipated that the Supreme Court would strike down the law. That would arm them with plenty of firepower to turn on the Democrats. But when the High Court upheld the law, the GOP resorted to yet another vote to repeal the law.