Langevin: ACA passage was ‘a personal fight’

PROVIDENCE – Rep. James R. Langevin, D-R.I., understands the life-changing effects of health care firsthand.

The Democratic congressman who has represented the state’s 2nd District for 11 terms saw his life dramatically change close to 40 years ago when a shooting accident during police training left him permanently paralyzed. Health care helped him readjust to a new life.

That’s one reason why the bruising battle in Congress to pass then-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010 to help secure health care for millions of uninsured Americans, was “a personal fight” for him.

Langevin, who announced Tuesday that he would not seek reelection this November, recalled to Providence Business News Wednesday the “difficult” process and the uncertainty as to whether or not it would pass at all.

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Initially, both chambers had their regular versions of the ACA, Langevin said, and under regular order, the versions would be discussed in conference committees to sort the differences. But, with then-Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s death in August 2009, the Senate no longer had the 60 votes needed for passage, Langevin said.

“It gave it the ability to invoke cloture and not be able to go to conference,” Langevin said. “It was really touch and go at that point.”

Langevin said the House then had to make a hard decision, which was to accept the Senate’s version of the ACA, which, the congressman said, had about “65% to 70%” of what the House felt should be in the bill with the hopes of working on it again later. If not, the bill had the risk of dying and not taken up again “for generations,” Langevin said.

But, the ACA, once passed, has made “a profound difference” in health care costs for Americans, Langevin said. And it was personal for him because of his own reliance on it after his accident.

“I really felt for the uninsured, just struggling to afford their health care premiums,” Langevin said. “It was one of the reasons it made me work so hard to see that bill got across the finish line. It did make a profound difference, as I hoped it would be.”

Langevin calls his vote in support of the ACA one of his proudest moments in his long House career.

He told PBN he has been thinking for several months about his future. The congressman’s time in Washington, D.C., is part of a political career that spans 36 years back to when he first served in the R.I. House as a Warwick representative and then became secretary of state.

Last year, Langevin considered running for governor this year, he said. However, Langevin said he decided this past summer against it, believing it would be too challenging to run for governor and serve in the U.S. House simultaneously.

The congressman said he has no plans to run for a future elected position, but said “you never say never.” He wants to see what opportunities exist in the private sector that will allow him to have a better work-life balance, but wants to be in public service “somehow in a voluntary capacity.”

Along with helping pass the ACA, Langevin led efforts in Congress to strengthen the country’s cybersecurity, including helping establish the first national cyber director. Langevin hopes to continue sharing the knowledge on cybersecurity he gained while in office to use going forward.

“It either could be [teaching or working in a cybersecurity sector] or all of the above,” Langevin said. “I’m going to wait and see what happens.”

Regarding possible candidates for his congressional seat, Langevin hopes House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi – a Warwick representative – would “take a look at it,” feeling that he is a “strong candidate.” He’d also like to see Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos run for Congress, as well.

“I’m sure there will many people to come forward to offer themselves as a candidate,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what the field looks like.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.