Procedural Amendments Take On Political Weight As Finance Committee Debates Health Bill
Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee considered, and then rejected, a Republican amendment that would have required legislative language of a health reform bill be posted for three days before the panel could vote on the bill. Democrats will post conceptual language instead.
CQ Politics: One Republican-backed amendment "sought to delay a vote to approve the measure until three days after it is reduced to legislative language and the Congressional Budget Office issues a final estimate" When Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, expressed support for the amendment, it gained steam. "Snowe is the only panel Republican likely to vote for the bill, and Democrats desperately want her support. 'I want to know what the final numbers are on any bill I vote on in this committee, and we should know it every step of the way,' Snowe said. But Democratic committee aides said Snowe - and most other Republicans on the committee - have previously voted on major legislation without having legislative language or a final CBO estimate in hand, including the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts." The amendment failed by one vote, but one Democrat, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, voted for it (9/23).
Kaiser Health News reports that Snowe almost made the CBO estimate a litmus test for her support. "At one point she said this is her bottom line. So Max Baucus offered an alternative, which would provide a lot of assurances that the members would have good numbers from CBO to use before they cast their final vote in committee. But clearly Snowe and the other Republicans were not satisfied with that" (Pianin, 9/23).
CBS News reports that committee members considered the amendment for two hours. "Still, 'this is not a normal bill for us or for the American people,' said Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who introduced the amendment. 'The devil is in the details. The way legislative language is written could have a large impact.'" Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the amendment was designed to slow the pace of legislation that must progress quickly if Congress hopes to get it to President Obama before the year is up (Condon, 9/23).
The Associated Press: "Republicans argued that transparency is an Obama administration goal. They also noted that their constituents are demanding that they read bills before voting. Democrats said it was a delay tactic that could have postponed a vote for weeks.
"The Democrats noted that unlike other committees, the Finance Committee works off conceptual language that describes policies - instead of legislative language that ultimately becomes law, and which the GOP amendment would have required. Democrats accepted an alternate amendment to make conceptual language available online before a vote" (9/23).
Politico: "The bill isn't even the version that will go to the Senate floor, noted Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), because it will be merged with legislation approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee" (Budoff Brown and Frates, 9/24).
Roll Call: "The debate was capped by a brief back-and-forth between Baucus and Bunning, with the Kentucky Republican demanding time to debate the Finance chairman's proposal. 'But we haven't discussed it yet,' Bunning said of Baucus' amendment. 'That's OK,' Baucus retorted. 'I don't need it discussed'" (Drucker, 9/23).