What’s Next? Senate Prepares To Consider House-Passed Reconciliation Fixes
Senators are preparing to take up a set of House-passed "fixes" to the health reform legislation it passed in December.
The Washington Post: "The year-long battle over reshaping more than one-sixth of the U.S. economy will now move across the Capitol. The House's approval of the Senate's version of health-care legislation ... also will send to the Senate a 153-page package of amendments to that legislation." Democrats there will use the "reconciliation rule to try to pass the revisions based on a simple majority." In anticipation of the related Senate floor drama, a group of senators and staffers "is expected to gather Monday with the Senate parliamentarian to determine whether a tax on high-cost insurance policies would affect the Social Security trust fund, and whether that would violate prohibitions against altering Social Security through the reconciliation process. Republicans say a ruling on their side could short-circuit the process, but Democrats are confident about their provision" (Kane, 3/22).
Kaiser Health News: "Senate debate could start as early as Tuesday and conclude before Congress adjourns for a two-week recess scheduled to start Friday night. The reconciliation process, which will be used by Senate Democrats to try to pass the bill, restricts floor debate to 20 hours and requires 51 votes for passage rather than the 60 needed to break a filibuster." Republicans are hoping to find rules on reconciliation that would allow them to change the bill and send it back to the House for reconsideration. KHN also presents a glossary of the terms sure to come up this week as the Senate begins its consideration including on the "Byrd Rule," which requires that every provision in a reconciliation bill deal with revenue or spending; a "point of order," which requires 60 votes to override a ruling from a Democratic chair; and the "Cadillac" Tax, which Republicans will likely say violates reconciliation rules because it doesn't take effect until 2018 (Carey, 3/21).
The Boston Globe: "Laying the groundwork for the months ahead, Senate Republicans are compiling dozens of amendments designed to underscore their contention that the health care bill is too expensive, involves too much government, and cuts too much out of Medicare. In many cases they hope to force Senate Democrats to vote against popular ideas they would otherwise support for the sake of keeping the bill intact. Democrats must resist any temptation to amend the reconciliation bill or the House will have to vote on it again" (Wangsness, 3/22).
Roll Call: "Senate Democratic leaders remain unclear as to how some of those procedural issues will be addressed, and the fight over those arcane rules began this weekend. First, Senate Democrats asked Republicans to vet their procedural objections with the Parliamentarian on Friday, but the GOP declined to do so, said one source." Roll Call reports that Republicans' best shot at changing the bill is to "find a budget point of order against the bill" which would have to be taken out before the bill is passed and would mean the bill goes back to the House before it is approved. In the meantime, even amendments Democrats may like will likely not be passed. "Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has said that Democrats would be asked to defeat any and all amendments, even ones they might support, in an effort to pass the bill, unchanged, and get it to the president's desk" (Drucker and Pierce, 3/21).
The Hill: "Senior Senate Republicans are skeptical of their chances to block major elements of a Democratic reconciliation package of healthcare reforms this week, avoiding the bold predictions of victory that have marked their statements for months.
'I have no idea,' said Sen. Judd Gregg, ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, when asked to gauge the chances for GOP success. 'We intend to make it a heavy lift to pass a reconciliation bill across the floor, which we think is a very bad bill'" (Rushing, 3/22).
MSNBC: "In the 22 times reconciliation has been used, only once has the Senate bill not been changed and sent back to the House. To ensure that all provisions of the bill have a budgetary impact, the rules of reconciliation allow Republicans to raise 19 different types of objections." Many of the amendments have been "vetted in advance," MSNBC reports. "'Nobody wants to surprise anybody if we can avoid it,' Gregg said. 'The parliamentarian deserves to have a reasonable amount of information so that he can make a thoughtful decision and is not having to take action in a situation where he hasn't had time to analyze the issue'" (Strickland, 3/22).
NPR: "The reconciliation bill does have several major tweaks on the earlier Senate bill, such as changing the penalties both for individuals who don't purchase health insurance and for companies that don't provide coverage to employees. It would delay the implementation of the so-called Cadillac tax on generous health care plans an additional five years, until 2018. And it seeks to answer complaints from states about Medicaid costs by increasing the federal share of coverage for those who enroll under the new law" (Greenblatt, 3/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.