Senate Final Fight On Health Reform Starts, Dems Hope For Weekend Wrap-Up
Senate lawmakers will begin debate today on a reconciliation bill "fixing" the health reform overhaul that has been approved by both the House and the Senate. Democrats hope to finish consideration of the legislation by Saturday.
USA Today: "Work on the proposed 'fix-it' bill, which eliminates special deals for individual states and increases subsidies to make insurance more affordable, will get underway after Obama signs into law the broader health care bill narrowly approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday." House Democrats passed the Senate bill 219-212 and the "fix-it" package 220-211. "But, like the health care bill itself, the follow-up package of changes has prompted a partisan feud in the Senate that could tie up the measure for days." Republicans are making final preparations for a series of parliamentary roadblocks to try to stop passage of the reconciliation bill - which only needs 51 votes in the Senate to pass. "Sen. John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans have promised to slow the process down through procedural objections. Meanwhile, the bill is open to amendments, and if any amendments are approved by the Senate, the House would have to cast another vote on the legislation" (Fritze, 3/23).
The Hill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes to wrap up consideration of the reconciliation bill by Saturday. "Republicans are planning to object to much of the 153-page bill, threatening to make 'Swiss cheese' out of the legislation that Democrats will try to move under the special rules that require only a majority vote." In the meantime, a Democratic aide said the bill will pass Friday or Saturday (Bolton, 3/22).
The Washington Post: The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is returning to familiar territory: waiting for the Senate to act. "Because of complicated rules that allow a single member to slow down the legislative process, the Senate has long irked House members. Even when the chambers are controlled by the same party, relations between the House and the Senate are tense." But House Democrats have been buoyed by health reform passage and "are feeling less gloomy about the prospect of enacting legislation this year beyond health care" (Bacon, 3/23).
Politico: As leaders from both sides debate process, Democratic Senate leaders are urging their members to stand against GOP efforts to slow down or derail the legislation in the upper chamber. "Knowing that they need only 51 votes to push a reconciliation bill to final passage, Democratic leaders are telling their senators that each Republican amendment is a 'poison pill' that would derail the process." Democrat leaders are also urging their colleagues to hold off on offering their own amendments. "But they're bracing for other potential defections from their ranks. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is one of a handful of Democrats who did not sign a letter last week to House Democrats committing to an up-or-down vote on the reconciliation bill 'without delay'" (Raju, 3/23).
McClatchy, on wavering Democrats: "Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who faces a difficult re-election campaign, said she'd oppose the measure, charging that the House-drafted reconciliation bill 'wasn't subject to the same transparency and thorough debate that we used in the Senate.' Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., also announced that he'll oppose the reconciliation bill. Republicans began their Senate assault Monday, as Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky charged that Democrats 'want us to endorse a raft of new sweetheart deals that were struck behind closed doors last week so this thing could limp over the finish line'" (Lightman, 3/22).
The Christian Science Monitor: Reconciliation, in theory, is not needed: "Once Obama signs the [Senate] bill Tuesday, it will be the law of the land, no matter what happens next. But few House Democrats like the bill Obama will sign into law. The fixes are the only way that Democratic leaders could get House Democrats to pass the bill Sunday, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid has vowed to push them through" (Russell Chaddock, 3/22).
Los Angeles Times: "Republicans are also expected to offer amendments designed to force Democrats to take politically awkward votes. For example, they could propose adding a government insurance program - the 'public option' that most Democrats support but was dropped to the dismay of their liberal base." Democrats are also dealing with potential legal challenges to the legislation from state GOP leaders over a mandate that all Americans carry health insurance or face a fine (Hook and Oliphant, 3/23).
CongressDaily: The Senate Parliamentarian makes rulings on what's germane to a reconciliation bill and Democrats "won a key victory" Monday when he "informed staff that the bill's excise tax on high-cost insurance plans would not violate budget rules, aides on both sides of the aisle said." Republicans had questioned the excise tax on high cost plans because they said it affects the revenues of Social Security - something forbidden by the rules of Reconciliation. "Leadership aides say Reid has at least 52 Democratic votes for reconciliation - one more than needed" (Cohn, Friedman and Goode, 3/23).
Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "Republicans plan other challenges under a Senate rule that bars use of the budget reconciliation process for provisions that have only an incidental impact on the budget, [a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] said. That includes a separate challenge to the tax on high-end health plans, he said" (Litvan, 3/23).
Roll Call: The battle for Parliamentarian Alan Frumin's approval "has been going on for weeks as House and Senate Democrats wrote the reconciliation measure, but Frumin refused to make some decisions until he had heard the Republican side of the argument. That process began in earnest this week." The article details Frumin's history as parliamentarian and says lawmakers will meet with him again Tuesday. "A longer and more thorough meeting to vet the bill is expected as soon as [Tuesday], once the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have completed their analysis of changes made by the House before passage. After that, Republicans and Democrats said Frumin would likely be asked to make quick rulings throughout the week that could affect the outcome of the debate" (Pierce, 3/23).