Political Squabbles Mark Opening Day Of Senate Health Debate
The Senate on Monday began its health bill debate amid speculation regarding how long the floor consideration would last and how much the bill will change before a final vote is taken.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Majority Leader Harry Reid opened the debate: "'While each of us may not say 'yes' to each word in this bill as it currently reads, let us at least admit that simply saying 'no' is not enough,' said Reid ... Republicans have considerable power to extend the debate into the new year, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that he would like at least six weeks of discussion" (Hook, 12/1).
The BBC notes that the Senate is "sharply divided" over the legislation, which "aims to extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, but faces entrenched opposition from Republicans." The GOP's McConnell focused attention on the bill's expense, saying "The notion that we would even consider spending trillions of dollars we don't have in a way that the majority of Americans don't even want is proof that this healthcare bill is out of touch." Majority Leader Harry Reid also could face resistance from centrists in his own party (11/30).
The Associated Press: "Debate is expected to last for weeks over the legislation, which includes a first-time requirement for most Americans to carry insurance and a mandate for insurers to cover any paying customer regardless of medical history or condition." And Democrats, who continue to struggle with their own internal divisions, control 60 seats in the Senate -- the number needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. But mustering these votes continues to be a challenge. "While Reid spent most of the day jousting with Republicans, his ability to steer the bill to passage will depend on finding ways to finesse controversial provisions within the measure" (Espo, 12/1).
CongressDaily reports that both Republicans and Democrats used Monday to try to score political points on the bill. "Democrats attempted to muddle two of the GOP's main arguments against Senate Majority Leader Reid's healthcare proposal, while Republicans focused their attention on a third hot-button issue, the proposal's nearly half-a-trillion dollars in cuts to seniors' Medicare benefits." Democrats offered the first amendment of the debate, "a measure to guarantee women preventive care and screenings with no co-payment" which was viewed as a swipe at Republicans who themselves pushed back against recent changes in guidelines that now tell women to delay and get mammograms less often. "Republicans, meanwhile, selected as their first amendment a proposal by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to send the bill back to the Finance Committee and remove what Republicans call $400 billion in Medicare cuts" (Edney and Friedman, 12/1).
The Associated Press in a separate story: "McCain's amendment would strip out more than $400 billion in Medicare cuts to home health providers, hospitals, hospices and others - a pitch to seniors, who polls show have deep concerns about the legislation. Democrats planned to go on the offense on the same issue Tuesday with an amendment underscoring benefits to seniors and guaranteeing that basic Medicare benefits would not be touched." Votes on amendments may begin today (Werner, 12/1).
Politico: "Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) accused Reid of engaging in a 'stunt' by catching the Republicans unprepared with requests to agree to prohibit senators from raiding surpluses from Social Security or a new long-term care insurance fund. Reid also sought agreement that all senators must first post amendments on their Senate Web pages before proposing them on the floor" (Budoff Brown, 12/1).
ModernHealthcare: "The amendments came the same day that ... Reid (D-Nev.) threatened to keep the Senate in session during the year's remaining weekends in order to reach a vote on the bill by the end of December" (DoBias, 11/30).
NPR quoted Reid: "The next weekends, plural, we will be working. I have events, uh, this weekend that I'll have to postpone, some I'll have to cancel. That's the way it's going to have to be with everyone. There is not an issue more important than finishing this legislation" (James and Welna, 11/30).