Democrats Expect To End Health Reconciliation Bill Debate Early
Senate Democratic leaders are trying to end the debate on a bill that "fixes" the health overhaul law that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday. Once the debate ends, the Senate is expected to begin voting on a number of Republican amendments, The New York Times reports.
"Debate on a reconciliation measure is limited to 20 hours, but senators are allowed unlimited amendments, which can be voted on during the debate or after it ends. Votes do not take time off the clock. On Wednesday morning the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, yielded back the remaining general debate time controlled by the Democrats, leaving about 7 hours and 25 minutes." General debate could end at 5 p.m. Wednesday with votes starting soon after (Herszenhorn, 3/24).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday that he's confident the reconciliation bill will pass without changes and will soon go to Obama's desk, Roll Call reports. If any changes are made to the bill, either from Republican amendments or from the Senate Parliamentarian striking provisions from the bill, it would have to be passed in the House again. "At a press conference with seniors and medical groups, Reid indicated the Senate could finish action on the bill late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. However, Budget ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) told a group of reporters that Reid may be overly optimistic, saying the expected vote-a-rama on amendments would 'go on awhile. You can assume that'" (Pierce, 3/24).
The Washington Post reports that the Republican amendments are "stacking up, and some could prove tough for Democrats to oppose. ... Among the 12 amendments offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a physician, one would would stop fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid payments for prescription drugs prescribed by dead providers, or to dead patients. According to Coburn, this actually happens. The amendment also would prohibit coverage of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications to convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders" (Murray, 3/24).
In addition "An amendment proposed by Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) would kick members of Congress off the government health insurance plan they use and enroll them in Medicaid ... ," The Hill reports. "LeMieux's amendments appears to be a jab at the means through which the healthcare law will provide insurance to 16 million who do not have it, by expanding Medicaid eligibility" (Fabian, 3/24).
The New York Times in a second story on amendments: "Senate leaders in both parties are cringing at the possibility of a last-minute wrinkle in the health care debate: an amendment that would add a public option, or government-run insurance plan, to the budget reconciliation bill now being considered on the Senate floor." Some liberal lawmakers are making a last hard push at including the public option in the legislation and "in an unlikely twist, after a year in which the appetite for a public plan was greater in the House, the Senate may now have the votes for it, while the House may not. Some advocates of the public option have been working to get a sense of the vote count in the House before renewing their demands. One potential strategy is to persuade a Democratic senator to put forward a public option amendment, but only to force a vote on it if Republicans succeed in making other changes to the reconciliation bill" (Herszenhorn, 3/24).
In the meantime, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., has said he will vote for the reconciliation bill, Politico reports. "Lieberman's endorsement provides a boost to Senate leaders, who had have lost support from Sen. Ben Nelson and Sen. Blanche Lincoln. He had been [a] holdout since the Massachusetts Senate defeat, and repeatedly called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table with Republicans" (Budoff Brown, 3/24).
Roll Call also reports that Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., announced Wednesday that he will support the bill. "Webb's support of reconciliation was more predictable, although he did vote with the Republicans on several amendments to the underlying Senate bill in December, when the law was debated on the floor" (Drucker, 3/24).
Politico, in another story: "The vitriolic health care debate has become personal - too personal, say House Democrats who voted for the bill and now find not just themselves but their families in the cross hairs of opponents. [Rep. Louise] Slaughter, a Democrat who chairs the House Rules Committee, said a caller to her office last week vowed to send snipers to 'kill the children of the members who voted yes.'" Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., also received death threats, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Arizona office was vandalized and "A tea party participant published what he thought was Rep. Thomas Perriello's home address and urged disgruntled voters to 'drop by' for a 'good face-to-face chat.'" the address was actually Perriello's brother's home (Serhman and Cogan, 3/24).