It's not hyberbole to say this afternoon's Senate vote was historic. The legislation it passed in three identically worded bills – SB 283, SB 311 and SB 417 – guarantees Virginians the right to freely choose their health care options irregardless of federal government mandates. It also asserts a notion long ignored but firmly ingrained in the U.S. Constitution. It also shows, from a political perspective, that there are Democrats who understand the small government movement isn't limited to "swastika-wearing" thugs as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have us believe. The floor debate wasn't as dramatic as I — and those of us who relish political theater — had hoped. Sure, there were some pointed questions, but judging by the temperment of the questions and their lack of heft, it could have been mistaken for a transportation funding bill. That was an immediate clue the Senate majority knew it had lost more than two defectors from its caucus. If it was only two, there would have been deal making, recesses to sweat them out, arm twisting, all of the above or more.
If there was a surprise, it was in how many Dems defected and who two of them were: Senators Ed Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) and John Miller (D-1, Newport News). There were rumors about the former last week (acceptable, but believe-it-when-you-see-it) and hope about the latter (no way that's gonna happen). The third new vote, also rumored late last week, Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville), was a more likely possibility. Although the 23-17 margin was a pleasant shock, I rooted for a showdown 20-20 tie that Lt. Governor Bill Bolling would have broken in the affirmative. That would have been more headline grabbing.
Not that the debate wasn't sharp. The questions from Senate liberals to the bills’ patrons — Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), SB 283; Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) SB 311; and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), SB 417 — came from Senators Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico), John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke), and Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-37, Springfield), as well as the more moderate Senator Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax). But their questions repeatedly missed the point, including questions about contracts, insurance requirements to join athletic clubs, and ex-spouses providing insurance in divorce settlements. Senator Quayle nailed it in his opening remarks when he said, "This bill attempts to reinforce the Constitution of the United States. … The Constitution doesn’t grant rights to anyone. It puts limits on what government can do to us."
Nothing more needed to be said. This being the Senate, of course, more was. Including this gem from the not-smarting-enough-from-his-November-trip-to-the-shed Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), who complained that with the economy and employment in bad shape, the General Assembly should not be "legislating in theory." A LOL coming from a guy who was shredded primarily because of national issues involving government intervention. Besides, he should know that it's Washington liberals who have ignored the economy and jobs for an entire year in lieu of health care "reform." But it's not theory. The Constitution is the law of the land. Amazing he doesn't understand that, but his comments today make it clear why his campign was a case study in political disasters, prompting comparisons to other campaigns ("Deeds-like").
At the beginning of session, not many people gave this legislation a chance of getting out of a Senate committee, much less passing the Senate floor by a wide margin. But it happened thanks to a large coalition comprised of thousands of activists from across Virginia, many of whom have been here several times to lobby their representatives and attend committee hearings.
But this is the General Assembly, after all, and nothing becomes law until it is signed. So vigilence is needed. We will stay on top of this legislation — and encourage all supporters to do the same — until it passes both chambers and is signed into law.