Markwayne Mullin

U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., is pictured in a screenshot from video.

Second District Congressman Markwayne Mullin became a minor social media celebrity Wednesday after telling a Democratic colleague to "shut up" during a subcommittee meeting.

After saying Affordable Care Act health insurance "sucks," Mullin took House Democrats, and particularly New Mexico's Ben Ray Lujan, to task for being, he said, more interested in scoring points than finding bipartisan solutions.

"We started talking about bipartisanship. The gentleman from New Mexico (Lujan), what have you actually proposed that's serious about a bipartisan approach?" Mullin said.

When Lujan tried to respond, Mullin said, "You had your time to talk. ... I said I wasn't going to yield to you. You can shut up now."

This elicited growling disapproval and shouts of "point of order."

Watch the video here:

Once things calmed down, Democrat Ann Kuster of New Hampshire said she took offense to the use of "a five-letter word that begins with 's' and ends with 's.'"

Presiding member Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, a friend of Mullin's, cut off further argument by declaring a 10-minute recess.

When the meeting resumed, a more subdued Mullin asked that his words be withdrawn and went on to say the subcommittee, which handles health care-related legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee, should work together to fix the health care system.

"The ACA is health care," he said. "Good, bad or indifferent, it's what we have. If you want to get serious about trying to fix it, then I'm all about it.

"We always say the Republicans this and the Democrats this, (but) what have we done? Except point fingers at each other and try to get political scoring points?" Mullin said.

During the exchanges, Mullin seemed to indicate employees of Mullin Plumbing and its affiliates may rely on the ACA exchanges for health insurance.

"My employees I have now, because I'm still an employer, the biggest complaint they have about the ACA is that their coverage sucks," Mullin said. "It doesn't cover anything. Their premiums are off the chart because it does nothing."

Mullin expanded on the remark after the break.

"I have 200-plus employees that are struggling each day with trying to pay for health care," he said. "The only thing that's happened since the ACA was introduced is that it's skyrocketed their insurance, skyrocketed their costs, and their premiums are completely unaffordable. The No. 1 complaint my HR gets is how worthless our health care is. If we want to talk about fixing it, fine let's fix it."

Mullin has in the past directed all complaints about the nation's health care system at the Affordable Care Act, so it wasn't clear whether he was blaming the ACA for overall increases in health care costs or saying Mullin Plumbing employees were on ACA policies.

Asked to clarify, Mullin's congressional spokeswoman Amy Lawrence said, "Health care is personal to every American — including Congressman Mullin. The congressman is passionate about ensuring Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care."

Lawrence did not respond to a question about Mullin's and other Republicans' support for "bare-bones" policies that are cheaper than current health plans but also offer less coverage than the minimums set by the ACA as well as many state insurance regulators.

Although Mullin repeatedly referred to "his" employees, he technically surrendered control of the company after his election to Congress in 2012. His continuing relationship with it while in office has led to some conflicts with ethics watchdogs but no serious wrongdoing has been alleged.

Wednesday's blowup came about six hours into a mark-up session for 12 health care bills. During the session, Democrats referred on many occasions to the Trump administration's decision to seek total repeal of the ACA, while Republicans complained about the ACA's cost and shortcomings.

The particular issue under discussion involved a risk management strategy called reinsurance.

Democrats proposed a program to mitigate private insurers losses on high-risk policy holders through government-backed reinsurance. They said the language came from some of the ACA repeal bills proposed by Republicans in previous years.

Wednesday, Republicans said they wanted the measure to include language prohibiting the use of tax dollars for abortions covered by ACA insurance policies.

The bill was ultimately sent to the full committee by a party-line vote.

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Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel

Randy has been with the Tulsa World since 1979. He is a native of Hinton, Okla., and graduate of Oklahoma State University. Krehbiel primarily covers government and politics. Phone: 918-581-8365

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