Debate on Health Care Reform Legislation Off to a Heated Start in Senate
The Senate began debate on its health reform bill on Monday, with opening statements from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that included a "healthy dose of street-level Washington sniping," Politico reports.
According to Politico, the Senate leaders aimed to set the agenda for the debate but failed to reach an agreement on various parameters for the discussions, including a vote threshold for approving amendments or the length of time allocated to discuss each proposal (Budoff Brown, Politico, 11/30).
In his opening remarks, Reid said, "There's not an issue more important than finishing this legislation," preferably by Christmas (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/30). He also warned Republicans to "avoid the temptation to drown [the debate] in distractions and distortions" (Politico, 11/30).
"The next few weeks will tell us a lot about whether senators are more committed to solving problems or creating them," Reid added (Smith/Whitesides, Reuters/Washington Post, 11/30). He also said that the Senate will work "late at night" and during the upcoming weekends (Brady, Roll Call, 11/30).
During his remarks, McConnell assailed the Senate bill -- estimated to cost $848 billion over 10 years -- for being too costly during the current economic recession.
"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 health care bill is out of touch," he said (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/30).
McConnell also criticized the more than $400 billion in proposed Medicare cuts, which Republicans say would greatly reduce beneficiaries' health benefits. "I don't know what's more preposterous -- saying that this plan saves Medicare or thinking that people will actually believe that," he said (Politico, 11/30).
Enzi Rejects Early Procedural Motions
Before Democrats and Republicans offered one amendment each to launch the debate, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) -- the Senate GOP's floor manager -- rejected several preliminary procedural motions offered by Reid.
Enzi said that a request by Reid that all amendments be published online before they are offered up in the debate was not what they had discussed (Armstrong, CQ Today, 11/30).
Enzi said, "To just throw those out at the beginning, when I had about a minute and a half notice that they were going to be thrown out, I just don't think this is the right way to go about this whole process."
Enzi also accused Reid of pulling a "stunt" with a request that would bar senators from dipping into Social Security surpluses or a new long-term care insurance fund (Politico, 11/30).
Democrats, Republicans Offer First Amendments
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- who called the Senate bill a "monstrosity" that employs "Bernie Madoff accounting, Enron accounting" -- offered the first GOP amendment that would eliminate the more than $400 billion in proposed Medicare cuts, which primarily would affect home health providers, hospitals and hospice care facilities.
Democrats plan to offer a counter amendment that highlights the benefits to seniors and provides assurances that Medicare beneficiaries' basic benefits would not be affected (Werner, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/1).
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) offered an amendment that would require insurance companies to cover the costs of preventive care screenings for women (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 12/1).
Noting the controversy over new federal guidelines for routine mammograms, Mikulski said that under her amendment, "if your doctor says you need [a preventive screening like mammograms], you're going to get one."The Senate is scheduled to vote on the two amendments on Tuesday (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/1). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.