Health care finally done, Titus eager to pivot back to jobs

WASHINGTON -- While most of the Democrats who voted for health care reform celebrated at a White House signing ceremony Tuesday morning, Rep. Dina Titus took a pass.

Instead, the freshman congresswoman stayed behind in her office for a series of meetings with visitors from Nevada, including groups of health care professionals and teachers, and to prepare remarks for a luncheon with Jewish voters from the state.

A few hours later, Titus took a turn presiding over the House chamber as Democrats turned back to their "jobs agenda," advancing a $5.7 billion bill that includes money for job training grants and small-business loans.

The Nevadan who in January famously told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a private meeting that Democrats would be "f---ed" at the polls this year if they did not focus on bread-and-butter economic issues showed signs she was ready to move on from the colossal debate on health care.

While Republicans continued to decry Sunday's passage of the health care reform, Titus said she would continue to talk about it in Nevada when asked and was preparing two events in her district to discuss its impact on women and doctors.

Beyond that, Titus said, "We are not going to dwell on it. I am going to meet with anybody who has questions, and we are going to keep the information coming. But we are going to start talking about jobs again, and we have housing foreclosures we need to deal with."

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who also voted for the health reform bill, said she had no plans to focus on it when she returns to Nevada for a two-week recess that is expected to begin in a few days.

Berkley said she might hold a town hall meeting without a headline topic, expecting she will get a lot of questions about the health bill no matter what.

"Obviously this is a big topic and an important topic, and the more people know what is in there and understand it, the more they will like it," she said.

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said he expects careful moves in the months ahead on the hot-button issue from Berkley and particularly Titus, who is facing her first re-election bid in a closely divided district where Republicans have vowed to bash her on her vote.

"They are counting on the furor to die down and that it will be hard for the opposition to sustain momentum and this amount of venom for eight months" until Election Day, Damore said. "They would like to shift the focus to some things that will be much more electorally valuable."

Damore pointed out that the parts of the new law that will be enacted this election year generally are voter-friendly. They include tax credits to small businesses to help buy employee coverage, and reforms that bar insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, that remove lifetime caps on benefits and that allow parents to continue covering children up to age 26 on their plans.

On the other hand, new taxes and fees, and the mandate that requires most people to buy insurance won't kick in until later in the decade.

Titus said she did not intentionally seek to avoid the signing ceremony Tuesday but wanted to keep appointments with constituent groups.

White House officials invited every Democrat who voted for the bill to watch as President Barack Obama signed the bill into law, and Berkley and Sen. Harry Reid were in the crowd.

"I watched a little bit of it on TV, and I have been to other bill signings," Titus said.

In a statement, Titus declared the bill signing "an important day for the people of Nevada," particularly for those who have had run-ins with health insurance companies over coverage.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.