On March 21, Rep. Heath Shuler bucked his own party in voting against sweeping health-care legislation that passed the House of Representatives 219-212.
Shuler joined 35 other House Democrats, including two from North Carolina, in opposing the bill.
"I voted against the bill because I felt that we could do better," Shuler said in a lengthy statement released March 22. "Now that it has passed and will become law, I look forward to working with my colleagues to address specific areas that need improvement. I assure you that I will continue to work as hard as I can to fix our nation's health-care system in a fiscally responsible and compassionate way."
Shuler praised some of the bill's measures, including restrictions on insurance companies and letting children remain on their parents' insurance until they're 26. However, he also maintained that the bill didn't do enough, that the cost is too high, and that he favors a more incremental approach.
During the week before the vote, The Hill, a congressional newspaper published daily when Congress is in session, had listed Shuler as undecided. And on March 19, Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee established to rally President Barack Obama's supporters, asked constituents to call Shuler's office and urge him to vote for the bill. As the day wore on, however, several online vote counts had Shuler opposing the legislation, and late that afternoon, he made it official.
"I recognize that there are strong views on both sides of the health-care debate, and it has spurred strong emotions throughout the nation," Shuler said in a brief statement. "Tens of thousands of constituents have shared their opinions with me, and I appreciate their views. My responsibility as congressman is to filter through the emotion, misinformation and politics surrounding this issue and do what is best for Western North Carolina and our country."
The two-term congressman had decided to oppose the bill, saying, "There is no question that our current health-care system is broken and that we need to make significant reforms to improve it in an equitable, fiscally responsible and sustainable manner. In my opinion, the bill as written does not meet those criteria."
Shuler also opposed health-care legislation when it came before Congress last year, citing concerns about the cost.
During his 2008 re-election campaign, Shuler received $130,852 in campaign contributions from the health-care industry — more than any other Democrat in North Carolina's House delegation, according to campaign-finance reports. He has repeatedly asserted that those contributions have not affected his vote.
Shuler will square off against Aixa Wilson in the Democratic primary. Early voting begins April 15.