Could Texas Dems Sink Health Care Bill?

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About one in three people in South Texas lack health insurance—perhaps the highest percentage of uninsured residents in the nation. 

Yet two South Texas congressmen—Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi—are considering voting against the health care reform bill when it comes to a vote in the U.S. House this weekend. 

The fate of the health care reform bill hinges on the votes of roughly two dozen House Democrats who remain undecided. 

Many of the undecided Dems represent conservative districts and are reportedly hesitant to support the health care bill for fear it will lead to their defeat in November.

Democrat Chet Edwards—who represents a Central Texas district that’s roughly 65 percent Republican—has already said he will oppose the bill.

But Ortiz and Cuellar represent safe Democratic seats. They also represent areas that are desperately in need of health care reform, including the three urban areas with the highest rate of uninsured residents in Texas (and perhaps the country), according to a Texas Comptroller’s report:

1. Laredo (Cuellar’s district): 36 percent of the population lacks health insurance.

2. Brownsville (Ortiz’s district): 32 percent lack coverage.

3. Corpus Christi (Ortiz’s district) 28 percent are uninsured.

The health care reform bill would provide health insurance to an estimated 30 million Americans who currently lack coverage.

Jose Borjon, a spokesperson in Ortiz’s Washington office, said the congressmen was still reading the latest version of the bill, which was released just yesterday, and mulling which way to vote. He’s concerned about the bill’s impact on the deficit and abortion services, Borjon said. Ortiz’s D.C. office has been inundated with phone calls today from both sides. (To contact Ortiz’s office, click here. And for Cuellar, click here.)

As for Cuellar, the Texas Association of Business and Gov. Rick Perry are lobbying the Laredo congressman to oppose the reform bill, as the Rio Grande Guardian reports

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Cuellar is leaning toward voting for the bill. He told the paper he thinks the bill looks “very promising,” but he stopped short of committing his support.  

After a year of tense debate, the fate of health care reform will come down to a handful of votes. And Ortiz and Cuellar’s may have a big impact on the outcome. 

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.