WASHINGTON — If Rep. William L. Owens arrived in Congress a little starry eyed last November, he left the Capitol Sunday night with a grittier view of the seat of national politics.
"It's frustrating," Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said as the House debated health care for a final, raucous day in advance of Sunday's night's historic 220-211 vote in favor of sweeping insurance reform. Much of the public debate has been fanned by misinformation and opinions not grounded in fact, Mr. Owens said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office.
Mr. Owens said he does not necessarily take issue with the bill's critics — some have expressed well-studied misgivings, he said. And he acknowledged that finding accurate information about the proposal has been challenging, even for members of Congress.
"The biggest concern to me is it's tough to get factual information," Mr. Owens said. Much of the material available on either side did not cite a source, he said. "So you know it was all skewed, slightly."
Still, Mr. Owens said, he was troubled to receive calls and e-mails referring to language that is not, in fact, in the bill, or claiming that health care premiums will rise, without having a source.
"What's your basis for saying premiums will go up — or down?" Mr. Owens said he wants to know.
In the end, Mr. Owens accepted the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's conclusion that the legislation will reduce the federal deficit, and he pointed to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report that warned of dire economic consequences if Congress does not act to slow the nation's health care costs and reduce the number of uninsured Americans. As the House was passing the reconciliation measure, he called it "really a historic event."
"It takes the focus to getting us a system of care for everyone. I think that's going to occur because people are going to take ownership of their health care."
Mr. Owens said the experience has not "soured" him on Washington — that is too strong a word, he said — but has frustrated him as he tries to focus on the legislation's details.
He was critical of the process, too, and not just of Republican stalling tactics, which he called "a deliberate attempt to make the process more difficult for no substantive reason."
Mr. Owens was among a handful of lawmakers who played a role in convincing House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to allow a vote on the Senate version of the legislation, rather than using a "deem and pass" maneuver that would allow it to pass the House without a vote. He was joined in that effort by Rep. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, who, like Mr. Owens, waited until the final bill was released before deciding to vote yes.
Mr. Owens said no one would swallow the Democrats' argument that they did not, in fact, vote for the Senate version, with its special deals and other aspects unpopular even with many House Democrats.
Although the main focus Sunday was on the reconciliation bill that makes changes to the Senate version, the House took a series of related votes that hinted at the final outcome. A tally of 224-206 on the rules for floor debate was the first solid sign that Democrats had the votes they needed to pass the bill.
Mr. Owens voted yes on that procedural measure and also in favor of the Senate version. Like many House Democrats, Mr. Owens did not particularly like the Senate bill — alone, it would cost New York around $4 billion in Medicaid "disproportionate share" money, officials said — but realized its passage was necessary to reach the reconciliation package, which spares New York that expense.
In delaying his decision on which way to vote, Mr. Owens made himself a target of additional pressure from House leaders and the White House, as well as by organizations on either side of the debate. But he was gratefully anonymous, to a point, as he made his way through the crowd of protesters on the Capitol lawn.
He said he purposely walked through the crowd, wearing his congressional pin. A few protesters who recognized the pin urged him to vote no, he said, but he was spared the kind of nastiness that he encountered ahead of the last House health care vote, in November.
On the other hand, Mr. Owens said, some protesters taunted him as he stood on a balcony on Saturday. And has received some threats of physical harm, which he reported to the U.S. Capitol Police.
Any unpleasantness Mr. Owens witnessed in recent days is likely a harbinger of his re-election campaign. Both of his likely Republican opponents have been highly critical of the bill; one, Douglas L. Hoffman, is connected with the tea party movement that has been especially outspoken.
In a statement, Mr. Hoffman called Mr. Owens's vote "wrong for New York and wrong for America" and said the measure would "bring us a step closer to socialized medicine."
Mr. Owens, as well as other swing-district Democrats, are counting on some of the bill's immediate impact to carry them through any political pain. If north country hospitals save money by treating many fewer uninsured patients, more children with pre-existing medical conditions obtain insurance and small businesses use the tax credits to offer employees insurance, these lawmakers predict, the measure will prove more likable than Republicans figure.