In NY-23, Newly Elected Democratic Congressman’s 11th Hour Conversion In Support of Pelosi’s Health Care Bill Raises Cries of Foul Play

UPDATE: OOPS! The New York Times Reports President Obama Acknowledged Today That He and Bill Owens Pulled a Health Care Fast One on the Voters in NY-23

Newly Elected Democratic Congressman Bill Owens Was Sworn in to Represent NY 23 Yesterday, Will Vote In Favor of the Pelosi Health Care Bill Today.

by Michael Patrick Leahy of The TCOT Report and Nathan Barker of The Gouverneur Times


House Passes Pelosi Health Care 220-215

11:15 pm est

Despite the public outrage and opposition expressed at the August Town Halls, the House of Representatives passed the Pelosi Health Care bill 220-215 tonight. 39 Democrats voted “No”, 1 Republican (Cao-LA) voted “Yes”. And so begins the era of the Imperial Congress.


Bill Owens, Newly Elected Congressman from NY-23, Already Behaving Like a Member of the Imperial Congress

9:15 pm est

Bill Owens, the new congressman from NY-23, apparently has already developed a pattern of behavior that involves ducking both the local and national press, as this breaking report from the Washington Times confirms:

The Washington Times caught up with the brand new Democratic congressman from upstate New York, and asked him about the campaign promises he is being accused of breaking, but Mr. Owens seems to think he does not owe his constituents any explanation of his vote tonight other than telling the Washington Times Water Cooler to read his press release.

What about 2010? Congressman Owens refused to speculate at this point whether or not he felt confident about the 2010 election.

It seems when Mr. Owens’s local paper tried contacting his office, they received the cold shoulder as well:

When The Gouverneur Times attempted to contact Mr. Owens to clarify this information, we received no direct response to our phone or email inquiries.

Finally, The Water Cooler pointed out to the congressman he has no public website for constituents and press to contact him to speak of and a crucial vote is currently going down. His response? The Washington Times received a gmail address of his chief of staff and a “we’re working on getting all those things up and running.” How convenient.

You can read the full Washington Times story here.


President Obama Acknowledged Today That He and Bill Owens Pulled a Health Care Fast One on the Voters in NY-23

The New York Times is reporting that in his pep talk to the Democrats in Congress this morning, President Obama acknowledged that he and newly elected NY-23 Democratic Congressman Bill Owens have pulled a fast one on the voters in that district.

The Times reported the President’s comments about Bill Owens today in the context of the overall pending Health Care bill vote:

The president also singled out Representative Bill Owens, the newly-elected Democrat from a historically Republican district in New York, who was sworn into office just on Friday. Mr. Obama noted that Mr. Owens would support the health care bill even though it might not be popular at home.

“Think about Bill Owens,” Mr. Obama said. “He could have dodged it. But he didn’t. And guess what? Bill is sitting right here.”

From the start of his campaign on August 10 until an election eve debate on October 30, Owens adamantly opposed the type of public option that is contained in HR 3962, the Pelosi bill the House is voting on later today.

Owens announced qualified support for the “current bill” in an October 30 debate less than 84 hours before the polls opened. His statement of support was lost in the ensuing melodrama when Republican Dede Scozzafava withdrew from the race the next day, and then switched allegiances and endorsed him rather than the Conservative Doug Hoffman.

In his statement today lauding Owens, President Obama unwittingly confirmed what had been reported here earlier today–that the voters of the 23rd Congressional District had been misled throughout the campaign by Bill Owens that he opposed the Pelosi public option Health Care bill, and that, had Mr. Owens’ been honest with the voters throughout the entire campaign he would have great difficulty in winning the special election.

You can read the full New York Times story here.

11:45 am est

by Michael Patrick Leahy of The TCOT Report and Nathan Barker of The Gouverneur Times

From his nomination as the Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 23rd Congressional District on August 10 until October 30, barely 84 hours before the polls opened in the special election, newly elected Democratic Congressman Bill Owens was adamantly opposed to health care reform bills that included the “public option.”

In his first formal interview as a candidate on August 11 with the New York Observer, Owens clearly stated his opposition to the public option:

“Owens took a decidedly moderate line on health care restructuring, saying he does not support a public option available to anyone–the crux of the restructuring put forward by President Obama.”

You can read more of the August 11, 2009 New York Observer article here.

Owens maintained this position of strong opposition to the public option for the next two and a half months, until the final debate of the campaign, held in Plattsburgh on Friday October 30, just 84 hours before the polls opened for the special election.

The previous day, on October 29, Speaker of the House Pelosi had introduced the massive 1,900 page HR 3962 Health Care bill that included elements that were far more Left Wing than any of the previous House bills.

The next day, Owens apparently latched on to the talking points about HR 3962 provided to him by Speaker Pelosi that allowed him to change his public opposition to the public option components of the bill.

Since the public introduction of HR 3962 on October 29, additional changes have apparently been made, and it is unknown if any of those changes effect the language of the revised public option. For that matter, it is unclear if Owens is even aware of any of the changes made to HR 3962 since October 29.

It’s difficult to know, because Speaker Pelosi has refused to publicly post the details of the final version of HR 3962 on which Owens and the other members of the House of Representatives will be voting this afternoon. Both Speaker Pelosi and President Obama had promised “transparency” for all bills, stating they would be available for viewing by the public on the internet in their final form for 72 hours before any votes were held. This promise has been broken repeatedly, and is being broken today on HR 3962.

Owens, then, is left in a position where he has switched to support the Pelosi Health Care bill at the last minute, and now will be voting in favor of something the full details of which he is ignorant.

Republicans emphasized the secret and ever changing nature of the final version of HR 3962 in the debate on the floor of the House today.

“Many of the changes [in the final bill] were made late last night” said Congressman David Dreier R-CA at 1 pm est today.

Owens has made no public comment on the fundamental fairness of this failure to reveal the details of the final bill prior to today’s vote.

Section 202 of HR 3962 as released to the public on October 29 allows a provision for employees to keep their existing plans from their employers if the plan meets the criteria for the exchange. The definitions of what is an acceptable plan under the exchange have not yet been written. They are reserved to be established by a commissioner at a later date and re-established yearly. Even if a plan meets the criteria the first year, it could still be exempted from being a valid plan the next year.

This specific portion of the bill technically doesn’t have anything to do with the public option. However, HR 3962 requires that everyone have health insurance that meets the criteria of the exchange program. If your current employer’s plan no longer met the criteria of the exchange, you would then have the option to purchase your own insurance (including the public option) if your employer was not able to bring their plan into timely compliance.

Owens’ point had been that he would not endorse a Health Care bill where the public option was available to those with existing insurance. However, this section would allow an individual to do exactly that if their employer’s plan failed to meet the as yet undetermined criteria.

In essence, it seems inevitable that the passage of HR 3962 would result in many existing plans being converted to public options, and thereby forcing those currently with health care to have no option but enroll in the public option.

Owens had also previously stated that he would oppose any Health Care bill that reduced Medicare benefits. But a CBO analysis of Pelosi’s HR 3962 showed that Medicare benefits will be cut.

“Not so fast, said the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was quick to point out that an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that the plan does cut Medicare benefits, specifically Medicare Advantage. In the words of the CBO, the plan would “reduce direct spending” in Medicare, Medicaid and other programs “by about $426 billion in the 2010 -19 period.” Democrats say that those cuts will in fact be savings created by weeding out inefficiencies.”

You can read more of this CQ Politics article here.

On Thursday, November 5, television station WWTI in Watertown reported:

If Owens is sworn in shortly he may be part of the House vote on a health care reform bill this weekend. Anticipating that, Owens said he’d spent the last 12 hours reading up on the legislation.

WWTI also quoted Owens as follows:

“As I’ve indicated before, I think that this is a historic movement forward. I’m reviewing the bill. I think it does many of the things that I thought needed to be done. There are some things that I would like to see changed in the bill. And so I’m going through the process of making sure that I have a full understanding before making a final decision,” Owens said.

More on this story here.

Paul Maroun, a Franklin County Republican Legislator, and a potential challenger to Owens in the 2010 Election for the 23rd NY Congressional seat reacted strongly to Owens’ missteps.

“If it is true that Bill Owens this afternoon is going to support Pelosi’s Health Care bill, Bill has forgotten a fundamental principle and guiding factor in the 23rd Congressional District of New York and the North Country, and that is … when you say you’re going to do something at the beginning of a campaign, we expect you to do that after the campaign is over. Apparently, Bill is being pulled to the Left already by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and her floor leaders. This is not fair to the people of the 23rd Congressional District, and it is not what we want representing us in Washington.”

Owens’ 11th hour conversion to support Pelosi’s public option on Friday evening October 30 was lost in the fast moving melodrama of the subsequent four days. At 9 am the next morning, the Siena Poll was released showing Owens and Hoffman in a dead heat, with Scozzafava in a distant third. By 11 am, Scozzafava had withdrawn from the race. The next morning, Sunday, a Watertown Daily Times editorial strongly hinted that the Dem Scozzafava was endorsing the Dem Owens, and at 2 pm that afternoon, she made it official. Over the next 36 hours, Scozzafava campaigned enthusiastically for her former Democrat rival, recording two robocalls, and appearing at an event with him. Scozzafava’s endorsement and active support were the critical factor in Owens’ election, as undecideds moved 3 to 1 in his favor in the last days.

Michael Patrick Leahy is the Publisher of The TCOT Report and the author of Rules for Conservative Radicals

Nathan Barker is the Managing Editor of The Gouverneur Times


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