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Freshman rep: We're not vampires

By Jared Polis, Special to CNN
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Freshman year in Congress
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jared Polis says health care bill will create important curbs on insurance companies
  • He says he was successful in discouraging tax increases on small business
  • Republicans declined to take part in crafting the bill, Polis says
  • GOP claim that bill creates government-controlled health care is wrong, he says
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Editor's note: Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado's 2nd District in Congress and is writing a regular series of reports for CNN.com on his freshman year.

Washington (CNN) -- It is indeed appropriate that we finished writing the House version of health care reform around Halloween. Negotiating deals among members of Congress is an exercise in wearing masks, scaring up votes, and oftentimes, bluffing.

It is exactly the same kind of process I experienced making deals in the private sector, but here, of course, the stakes are much greater. Rather than focus singularly on profit, success in the House of Representatives is measured in terms of the various ideological and regional payoffs to their districts. The role of the speaker of the House is to deliver enough votes by understanding and accommodating the individual bottom lines of enough members to pass the bill. Boo!

In my case, I pushed for fewer tax increases. I believe that in order to sustain a governing majority, the Democratic Party has got to learn that it can govern without raising taxes. We need to prove to American voters, particularly independent voters who gave us this opportunity to lead, that this is not your grandfather's tax-and-spend Democratic Party.

Taxes are a powerful tool that must be used wisely, and sparingly, to support the wide range of services the American people rely on the government to provide. The fact that the House successfully delivered a health care bill that actually reduces the deficit by more than $100 billion over 10 years helps, but holding the line against tax increases is also critical.

While my role was small, I am proud that as a freshman I helped make a substantial change that ensures three-quarters of the small businesses that would have been taxed under the original bill will not be taxed under this new bill. This is great news for America's small businesses.

Other members used their chits for issues like addressing regional disparities in Medicare reimbursements, including a public option, and restricting abortions. But ultimately, anyone who wanted to impact the legislation had to be willing to support it in the end.

The basic principles of the reform -- including preventing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, mandating coverage and providing affordability vouchers for those who can't afford insurance -- are all non-negotiable and move us in the right direction. Some of the changes sought by individual members made the overall package better and some made it worse.

The health care bill was largely crafted during Democratic Caucus meetings. The upside of this is that it allowed all members of our caucus to participate. It would have been nice to have more Republicans participate in this process of writing the bill, but they chose not to, perhaps because they are afraid of their own right flank, which tends to lynch any "moderate" voice in their party.

We saw this most recently in the race for an open congressional seat in New York, where a tea party-backed independent candidate drove the moderate Republican candidate to drop out, helping Democrats score a key victory in a historically Republican seat. One brave Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao from Louisiana, voted for the health care bill in the House, and his bipartisan support provides great momentum as the bill moves on to the Senate.

Health care should make people's lives better, not worse. But our current system is broken, and needs a fix. I read stories of Colorado families who suffered under our current health care system into the Congressional Record to help put a human face on this issue.

Health care reform is about human lives, and I'm confident that in passing historic health care reform legislation two weeks ago, Congress has helped save the lives of people today, tomorrow and for years to come.

I was honored to be part of late fright night on the Rules Committee. Before a bill goes to the floor, it has to go to our committee, where we kill all the bad amendments. I was particularly pleased to kill the anti-immigrant amendments and grill Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, on how he planned to pay for his plan to subsidize undocumented immigrants rather than allow them to buy insurance with their own money.

After hours of review, I filed the rule for the health care debate on the floor of the House at 2:45 a.m.

The debate on the floor of the House also reflected Halloween. The Republicans donned their scary masks and did their best to spook voters with threats of "government-run health care," a claim that is blatantly false. They also harped on the size of the bill, and the speed with which it was being considered. This, too, was silly.

Toward the end of the six-month long process, my constituents were fairly evenly divided between the "Why are you guys taking so long? Just pass it!" and the "Why are you going so fast?" camps. With half saying the porridge was too hot and half saying it's too cold, I figure it was probably just about right.

The theme at my partner, Marlon's, Halloween party this year -- Blood Moon -- was vampires. While some view members of Congress as vampires, sucking on the lifeblood of America, they (er, we!) actually are no better or worse than everyone else.

Congress represents the diverse values, ideologies, and regional differences of our country as a whole, and while the process of passing a bill can be scary at times, it ensures that ideas are vetted and that the great diversity of our country is reflected in the policy-making process. The passage of health care reform is an excellent example of our political process at work.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jared Polis.