Senate Moves Toward Kicking Off Health Care Reform Debate
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expects the Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday to deliver a preliminary cost estimate of the chamber's draft health reform bill, CongressDaily reports (Edney, CongressDaily, 11/16).
The delivery of the cost estimate could set up the procedural vote as early as Friday, which would require 60 votes. The bill's amendment process could then begin when the Senate returns after the Thanksgiving break, according to Politico (Budoff Brown, Politico, 11/17).
Senate action on health reform has been limited since Reid requested CBO's evaluation of the draft bill on Oct. 26 (CQ Today, 11/16). Last week, Reid took the first step toward launching a floor debate by placing the House bill (HR 3962) on the official Senate calendar (California Healthline, 11/11).
Senate Will Not Adopt House Bill
Senate Democratic leaders on Monday confirmed that they will not use the House bill as the basis for their chamber's bill, CQ Today reports.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the House bill was "too unpopular in the Senate" to be used as the shell bill.
The U.S. Constitution requires that tax and revenue-raising bills, such as the health reform bill, originate in the House, CQ Today reports. However, the Senate is expected to take up a House-passed bill and replace its text with that of Reid's draft bill, which would be added as a substitute amendment (Hunter, CQ Today, 11/16).
Centrist Democrats Pose Concerns for Reid
It is unclear whether Reid will have the 60 votes necessary to move forward on the procedural motion. Some Senate Democrats in recent days have remained noncommittal in their support of the chamber's reform bill, CQ Today reports.
The lawmakers, mostly moderates, have declined to indicate whether they will vote for cloture on the bill until they have had an opportunity to review the CBO's cost and coverage report (CQ Today, 11/16).
Democrats remain divided on several key elements of the bill, such as its cost, whether it will include a government-administered public plan and how the bill would address the issue of federal funding for abortion services (Young, The Hill, 11/16).
Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) are among the Democratic senators still on the fence (CQ Today, 11/16).
Reid Meets With Liberals Regarding a Public Option
Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders met with a group of liberal members on Monday to gauge their support for the bill and the inclusion of a public option, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 11/16).
Last month, Reid added a public option with a state "opt-out" clause into the draft bill as a compromise to a national public plan (California Healthline, 11/9).
Baucus said that the members "wanted to talk about the importance of the public option being in the bill," adding that an objective was to "bridge the gap" between the majority of Democrats who favor the public option and the "three or four" senators who oppose it (CQ Today, 11/16).
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who requested the meeting, said, "Most of us in the caucus want a strong public option, support the Reid way of doing it," adding, "And we're confident that over time, as the debate unfolds and we take amendment after amendment after amendment, that we can get 60 votes."
A Senate aide also said that the group intended to discuss the possibility of invoking the budget reconciliation process, which requires a 51-vote majority to block a Republican filibuster, to advance legislation to the floor.
However, the senators in attendance declined to talk about whether the procedure had been discussed (Budoff Brown, "Live Pulse," Politico, 11/16).
Coburn Promises To Block Vote on Senate Floor
On Monday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said that he will lead an effort to block Reid's procedural vote by insisting that the legislation's language be read aloud on the Senate floor, Roll Call reports. The bill is expected to be "massive" with at least 1,000 pages, which would take the Senate clerk several days to read, according to Roll Call (Pierce, Roll Call, 11/16).
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on Monday said that Democrats would counter the move by holding a "live quorum," during which the Senate sergeant-at-arms would require every senator to be present in the chamber.
Harkin added, "We are planning that we will do something that would require Republicans to be there 24 hours a day, and if they leave the floor, we'll ask for unanimous consent to dispense with the reading, and that'll be the end of it" (Politico, 11/17).
Coburn said he also would block other legislative actions that Democrats might seek to employ. He added that he would require the Senate to use all 30 hours of debate time after a filibuster has been broken.
According to Roll Call, the Senate could remain in session through most of Thanksgiving week if Coburn "follows through on his threats" (Roll Call, 11/16).
Senate Republicans Prepared To File Multiple Amendments
Senate Republicans are expected to file dozens of amendments to the bill that focus on the potential impact of the proposed Medicare spending cuts on seniors and proposals to raise taxes that they believe would raise the overall costs of health care, the Washington Times reports.
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate HELP Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) have been asked by the Republican caucus to lead the opposition to the bill.Grassley dismissed a suggestion by Reid that the Senate use a more bipartisan approach to resolve issues between the parties, noting that the Senate Finance Committee's "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiating group worked for months without reaching an agreement that drew the support of all Republicans on the committee (Haberkorn, Washington Times, 11/17). 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.