The defeat of 40-year House Democrat veteran Rep. Pete Stark of California wasn't just a surprise to his longtime Congress colleagues, it also leaves the party's top spot on the Ways and Means Health subcommittee vacant.
Washington Democrat Rep. Jim McDermott -- next up in committee seniority and the only Democratic doctor in Congress besides Delegate Donna Christensen --seems likely to be Stark's replacement. McDermott has been a vocal defender of Democrats' health reform law on the committee and has introduced several health care bills in the 112th Congress, including one that would offer full scholarships to medical school students in exchange for five years of service in primary care after residency training, in an effort to alleviate the shortage of primary care doctors. The Ways and Means Democrats traditionally allow members with the most seniority to pick their seats within subcommittees first.
In the wake of Stark's defeat, the Ways and Means Democrats circulated a list of Stark's achievements while in Congress, including crafting the Affordable Care Act, the so-called COBRA health insurance plan that guarantees health coverage for workers in between jobs, and the law that guarantees any patient who enters a hospital emergency room be examined and treated, even if they can't pay.
"Countless millions of people benefit every day from legislation that he authored," Democratic Ways and Means Communications Director Josh Drobnyk said in an e-mail.