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Senate healthcare debate Day 2: partisan warfare by amendment

The US Senate began voting Tuesday on amendments and counter-amendments to the healthcare reform bill, as senators battle to shape the final product.

By Staff writer / December 1, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., meet with reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

Tuesday was a big day on Capitol Hill, with the full US Senate set to start voting on historic healthcare reform legislation.

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At this early stage, the votes are to approve or strike down proposed legislative amendments. In coming days senators will have to grind through lots of these, as members of both parties line up to try and shape the final product.

And healthcare reform still has a long roller coaster ride to go – through the Senate, to a conference committee, and back again to both Senate and House – before it becomes law, or flies off track to defeat.

“There are rough times ahead,” predicted Henry Aaron, a senior fellow in health affairs at the Brookings Institution, as the Senate began its work.

Senate debate on Tuesday began at around 2:15 pm, and quickly formed along expected lines. Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa, ranking minority member on the Finance Committee, led off by complaining about the size and possible expense of the effort, layered on top of federal bailouts of banks and auto firms.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, assistant majority leader, responded by calling the bill “monumental, historic”. He charged that some in the GOP were just trying to protect the profits of private insurers.

The first amendment to the bill was scheduled to come up for a vote as early as Tuesday afternoon. It is a bipartisan effort, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, to increase insurance benefits for women through yearly screenings for breast cancer.

The second amendment, filed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, would strip from the bill $400 million in Medicare cuts to home health providers, hospitals, hospices, and private providers of Medicare Advantage plans.

Democrats were to respond with their own Medicare amendment, promising that basic benefits would not be touched, and highlighting other advantages for seniors in the bill.