WASHINGTON — Republicans know Democrats want a clean reconciliation bill, free of any changes so that the final fixes to the recently enacted health-care reform law can be passed and sent to the White House without having to endure another tricky (and time-consuming) vote in the House.
But surely, they’ll say, Democrats couldn’t possibly want insurers to provide erectile dysfunction treatments like Viagra for convicted child molesters. How about exempting existing health plans from new requirements, grandfathering them in to ensure that President Obama can keep his pledge that anyone who likes their health plan can keep it?
Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have said they’d back a public option if it came to the Senate — and there’s a good chance Republicans will give them a chance to vote on one. Another would exempt many medical devices from new taxes and fees in the approved health care bill, something its GOP sponsor said would directly hold down the ever-rising cost of health care.
It’s all part of a process Klobuchar (and others) call “vote-a-rama drama.”
After the 20 hours of debate on the reconciliation bill that’s going on as I type comes a period of amendments, then voting. Republicans can offer as many amendments as they like, with one minute of debate on each side and then 10 minutes of voting. And since they’d like to stop or at least seriously delay the bill (or, to be cynically political, simply make life rough for vulnerable Democrats this November), the amendments are going to keep coming and coming and coming.
Democrats urged to vote no
“Put simply, to amend this bill is to kill the bill,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat in explaining why he’d vote against a public option.
Top Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to vote against everything, even amendments they might support, in order to keep the bill unchanged. It’s a dilemma each of the 57 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them will face. At least 50 of them need to hold the line on each vote to keep the bill unchanged.
“We’re going to look at each individual one” before deciding, said Franken spokeswoman Jess McIntosh. “Obviously [Franken’s] priority is getting the reconciliation bill passed and getting health care finalized for people who need it and correcting the injustice in our student loan system.”
Senate leaders are hoping to vote on the entire bill as early as late Thursday, though some estimates have that final vote coming as late as Saturday. The goal is to get a vote in before the Easter recess, a two-week break that’s scheduled to start as soon as lawmakers go home this week.
Under that scenario, Obama would sign the bill over the break and lawmakers would return to Washington April 12 ready for debates in earnest about financial regulatory reform, carbon cap-and-trade, U.S. relations with Israel — anything other than health care.