March 21, 2010, 11:10PMBucking his party in tonight's historic House passage of health care reform, and despite an eleventh-hour call from the White House to see if he could be swayed, Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon stuck to his guns and voted against the bill, telling the Advance, "I am proud to vote no because it is the right thing for my district."
The landmark legislation, which seeks to cover 32 million uninsured Americans at a cost of $940 billion over the next decade, passed the House 219 to 212 -- with a group of pro-life lawmakers helping to tilt the balance in favor after getting a last-minute pledge from President Obama that no public health care monies would be used to fund abortion.
A vote of 216 was needed to pass.
Reconciliation with the Senate version, slated within the week, is set to be followed by the quick signature of the president, who has made it the hallmark of his administration.
Among the key tenents: It bars insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and permits children to remain on their parent's health care plans until age 26. It also creates health care exchanges for workers who aren't able to get coverage from their employers, but fines individuals $325 who aren't pro-active in getting insurance by 2014.
Yet it wasn't enough to sway McMahon, who voted against health care reform in the first go-round last fall, and who has consistently contended the bill would be "bad" for his Staten Island/Brooklyn district.
"Given the existing hospital infrastructure and the Medicare cuts, it would be very hurtful to our health delivery system," said McMahon in an interview tonight. "It does not do enough to bring down the cost of health care. In five to 10 years, it could push one of our two hospitals on Staten Island to the brink of closure."
Still, said McMahon: "I am conflicted I was not able to support this plan because we need health care reform. I just do not feel we got to the right place with this bill."
A McMahon confidante said an Obama administration staffer put in an obligatory call to the congressman Saturday, but explained, "It was more of a confirmation call (of the expected 'no' vote) than anything else."
Yet, McMahon said he does not believe he -- or the district -- will be "punished" by the White House or Democratic House leadership for his failure to get onboard for the crucial vote, adding, "I have not been threatened, and I will continue to be an independent voice for the district."
But Staten Island health care supporters, like West Brighton attorney Shamsey Oloko, decried McMahon's vote, saying, "The congressman is misguided."
"His vote is one for the status quo," said Oloko. "Doesn't he know that it will prevent deaths? People today are dying for lack of health care coverage. When it becomes law, it will help the people of his district by extending coverage and stopping the predatory practices of insurance companies."
Added another health care supporter, retired college professor Sandy Berger of Great Kills: "Change is needed. It is not perfect, but overall our society will be better off with it than without it. There are a lot of poor people who need help. It will also cut some costs and give the insurance companies less money."
And "Weepeople" quipped on SILive of McMahon: "Maybe he'll try to sign on to the bill AFTER he finds out it actually assists a good portion of his constituents."
However, health care bill opponent Thomas Goodheart, a retired fire fighter from Oakwood, applauded McMahon's vote, saying, "The cost of this is going to be way out of control."
"If you can't afford something, you don't buy it, do you?" added Goodheart. "Change should be done a little at a time, starting with tort reform. Medicaid and Medicare are going to be cut. As it is we only have two hospitals on Staten Island. What we should be talking about is a city hospital on Staten Island."
Eltingville teacher Jeff Benjamin, another bill opponent, said he trusted McMahon's judgment, adding, "Everyone says it is not a perfect bill. Maybe it should be more precise. There may be parts of it that are good for America, but not good for Staten Island."
Meanwhile, Staten Island Tea Party organizer and health care opponent Frank Santarpia, said he wanted to "thank and applaud" McMahon for voting against the bill -- but that doesn't mean he'll vote for him this fall.
"As long as the congressman has a 'D' next to his name, he will be part of the problem in perpetuating the Pelosi Congress," said Santarpia, who revealed he had a "cordial" 15-minute sit-down with McMahon in McMahon's Washington office Saturday to urge him to maintain his "no" vote.
In explaining his view, the congressman said in a statement: "I am very supportive of many provisions in the bill, particularly the efforts to provide strong consumer protections and reduced health care costs for small businesses, but I remain concerned about the effect this package will have back at home."
Among his chief concerns, he said, is the "fear that the changes proposed to the disproportionate share hospitals reimbursement rates will cut millions from our local hospitals at a time when they can least afford it."
McMahon, a freshman lawmaker facing his first re-election bid this fall, has already gotten negative feedback from labor unions -- normally supportive of incumbent Democrats -- which are threatening to withhold support. On Saturday, the AFL-CIO were among the pro-health care union calls into the 13th Congressional District, urging residents to "call their congressman" and tell him to "vote yes."
In addition, some Islanders reported getting calls from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), asking them whether they supported the health care bill; whether they supported McMahon's decision to vote against it; and whether his "no" vote would make them more or less likely to cast their ballot against him.
The DNC could not be reached to confirm they were the source of the calls, and McMahon's office said they had no direct knowledge of them.
As the health care battle raged over the last year, McMahon's office has said 60 percent of his constituency have let him know they were opposed to the bill, in the form of e-mails, calls and letters.
And not to be forgotten is the earful McMahon got from the vocal opposition at a high-volume town hall meeting here last fall.
Today, one health care bill opponent, "mrbabydeema," opined on SILive: "There were many more against this welfare -- I mean health care -- bill" than there were for it on Staten Island.
Another bill opponent, "Phoebe," posted on SILive: "Thank you, Mike."
Still, health care supporter Berger said of McMahon: "I don't understand him. I guess he feels he has nothing to lose because his district is generally conservative, but I believe he is pandering to that constituency."
Meanwhile, "Swim" ominously posted on SILive, albeit with a smiley-face: "Democrats will be an endangered species come November."
Tonight's vote followed hours of debate. McMahon did not take to the floor in defense of his "no" vote.