Stark Tells Colleagues He is Using Oxygen Tube


The headline in yesterday’s Roll Call says “Stark Says His Health is Improving,” but not enough to appear before the House Sunday night in what was likely the most historic vote of Rep. Pete Stark’s long career in Washington.

According to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, Stark sent a note last Saturday to his congressional colleagues saying he was returning to good health. “The good news is, that after months in the hospital last year, there is no more pneumonia. Unfortunately, my lung capacity was diminished and for a while I need to use supplemental oxygen to operate at 100%. So don’t panic if you see me with a little plastic tube at my nose. It’s a bit inconvenient, but it works,” wrote Stark.

Stark did not read his statement in support of the health care reform bill passed last night in the House into the record. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), instead, submitted the 78-year-old’s statement into the record. Nationwide coverage of the floor debate across all cable news outlets would have been a rare opportunity for the congressmen who has made health care reform one of his signature issues, a chance to bask in the spotlight. On second thought, maybe not.

A reading of Stark’s remarks in support of the bill is tempered in its enthusiasm in a way typical for Stark and his contrarian streak even when it comes to raining on his own party’s parade.

“It isn’t the bill I would have written,” the statement reads. “However when it comes to legislating health insurance reform in America, we will not get everything each of us want.  This bill is a compromise that bridges the differences among us.” This is hardly what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would want broadcasted to the millions of viewers watching across the country, but why did Stark miss his chance to grandstand?

Was it the oxygen tubes he alluded to in his statement this weekend to House Democrats or is his health worse than his constituents are being led to believe? Stark was believed to had been fighting the effects of pneumonia for the most part of last year. He appeared before his constituents in September and October for town hall meetings targeted by Tea Party supporters and looked in reasonably good health as he chatted about the proper use of urine with a resident in Fremont. At subsequent public appearances, he walked with a pronounced limp and had trouble hearing, but his speech sounded loud and robust. 
With news of Stark relying on a breathing tube to perform his duties–he has the fifth-worst attendance record in the House–there may be justifiable concern whether his health is actually improving from last year bout with pneumonia or not.

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