Senate Democrats beat back GOP alterations to healthcare 'fixes'
Senate Democrats prevail, so far, in keeping the package of healthcare 'fixes' intact. But the House will need to vote on it again to address small adjustments in the part dealing with student loans.
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Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona lost his bid to cut all sweetheart deals from the package of fixes, including those for Louisiana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Montana, Connecticut, among others. The amendment was tabled by a vote of 54 to 43. Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Nelson of Nebraska voted with Republicans.Skip to next paragraph
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In a classic campaign-style amendment, Sen. George LeMieux (R) of Florida proposed requiring all members of Congress to limit themselves to Medicaid as their sole federal health insurance benefit, thus holding themselves to what they legislate for others.
“What my colleagues don’t want to talk about is that Medicaid is a failing system where doctors refuse to see patients and pharmacies won’t fill prescriptions,” he said Wednesday. “Now we are putting 16 million additional Americans into it and degrading the quality of care even further.” The bid failed on a straight party-line vote, 40 to 51.
Democrats charged that some amendments, such as one to bar federal funding for insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders, were designed solely to force Democrats to take votes that could be later used against them in election campaigns. That amendment by Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma was tabled on a vote of 57 to 42, with moderate Democratic Senators Bayh and Nelson again breaking ranks.
But on at least two procedural issues, Republicans did get the support of a critical voice: the Senate parliamentarian. Democrats and Republicans have both been vetting strategies on this legislation for weeks with the parliamentarian. As of Friday, Democrats were convinced that the package of fixes the House passed on Sunday would also pass muster in the Senate. On Wednesday, parliamentarian Alan Frumin gave advisory opinions signaling that if Republicans brought these two procedural points to the floor, he would support them.
With little chance now to alter the bill, Republicans are focusing the last hours of floor time on taking their case to the American public concerning why the new law – especially with “fixes” – is a flawed strategy. “This add-on bill took a terrible health spending bill and made it even worse,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
The House reconciliation package increases subsidies to make the required mandates more affordable to poor and middle-income families. It decreases the penalty on individuals who do not purchase health insurance to $695 a year for each household member, down from $750 in the 2009 Senate bill. It also phases out the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription-drug program over 10 years, beginning with a $250 annual rebate for seniors who fall into this gap in federal payments in 2010. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph misstated the penalty for noncompliance with the mandate to buy health insurance.]