Members of the Senate today stuck mainly to the same arguments they have been making for months as they continued to debate H.R. 4872, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “fixer” bill.
President Obama signed H.R. 3950, the PPACA bill, into law Tuesday.
That bill would require most substantial employers to offer health coverage and most individuals to have coverage; create health insurance exchange and nonprofit health insurance cooperative programs to help individuals and small groups get subsidized coverage; and impose many requirements on health insurance plans and health insurers, such as minimum loss ratios and bans on annual and lifetime benefits caps.
The bill would not directly affect self-insured employer plans.
H.R. 4872 would make some changes in PPACA, such as increasing the tax penalty for affected individuals who fail to buy qualified health coverage to $2,000, from $750, to discourage individuals from waiting until they are sick to buy coverage.
Democrats rejected more than 20 amendments offered by Republicans, but Alan Frumin, the Senate parliamentarian, required Democrats to send the bill back to the House, to remove two college financial aid provisions that are unrelated to the health provisions. Frumin says those provisions are not eligible for consideration under the rules of the Senate budget reconciliation measure process. That process cuts the number of votes needed to get a measure through the Senate to 51, from 60.
Republicans contended during floor debate on H.R. 4872 that the Reconciliation Act of 2010 would make the problems in PPACA even worse, by leading to an expensive, heavily bureaucratic, job-killing government takeover of health care.
Democrats argued that the bill would save money, protect jobs and help people now shut out of the mainstream health care system, get better care, and avoid the threat of financial ruin when they need care.
But senators reserved their most heartfelt comments for complaints about the process.
Republicans accused Democrats of shutting them out of the process of crafting the health bills, and of refusing even to allow for floor discussion of a number of proposed Republican amendments to H.R. 4872, such as an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to require members of Congress and staffers to get their health coverage through the health insurance exchange system, and an amendment offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to lower interest rates on on student loans.
“If we would have had the open amendment process that we had been promised or even if we had, as I had urged last October, that bipartisan summit had occurred then instead of last month…,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, D-Maine, said, according to an unofficial record of Senate floor proceedings posted on the Senate Republicans’ website. “Imagine if they had had the opportunity to sit down with the actual legislative language and through working through all of the issues, determining what works and what doesn’t work. We could have crafted a better product, but now we’ll never know.”
But Democrats argued that Republicans were pushing for changes knowing that they would never vote for the bill no matter what changes that the Democrats made, and that the current list of proposed amendments is simply an example of legislative dirty tricks.
Sen. Thomas Harkin, D-Iowa, cited the Alexander student loan interest rate amendment proposal as an example of an effort to block H.R. 4872 rather than to improve it.
“I think you see what this is,” Harkin said. “Just another attempt to try to kill — to try to kill this reconciliation bill. That’s all it is. Of course I’m for lower interest rates. Who wouldn’t be? Of course we’re all for making sure the interest rates are lower. So when this reconciliation bill is through, Mr. President, I intend to come to the floor, some bill probably coming up, maybe a financial bill or something like that, and I will be proposing at that time that we have lower interest rates. And I ask my friend from Tennessee to join us in that effort at that time.”
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has accused Republicans of using “tricks” to “force the shut down of several Senate committees for the second consecutive day:”
“So let me get this straight,” Manley says in a statement. “In retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings?”
After midnight, Reid made some conciliatory remarks while trying to find out if Republican Senate leaders would let everyone go home.
Reid said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., did a good job of managing floor debate on the Republican amendment proposals.
Judd “is always a gentleman and easy to work with,” Reid said. “There could have been a lot of controversy. There has been none. There has been no reading of amendments.”
Republican lawmakers are taking a fair amount of time to speak on behalf of the amendments, but “we just need to continue on this,” Reid said. But Reid did say he wanted to know what Republican plans are for further floor action.
Senate Minority Leader Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr., R-Ky., noted that lawmakers have offered as many as 53 amendments on past reconciliation bills.
“The majority leader may not think we’re serious about changing the bill, but we’d like to change the bill,” McConnell said. “And with a little help from our friends on the other side, we could improve this bill significantly.”
The Senate held more amendment votes Wednesday than it did on the previous health bill, H.R. 3590, during the entire month of December 2009, McConnell said.
But McConnell added that Republicans have had discussions off the floor about coming up with ways to wrap up work on H.R. 4872.