On Tuesday, the Senate voted 56-40 to begin debate on the budget reconciliation bill (HR 4872), which includes a series of "corrections" to the health reform bill (HR 3590), President Obama signed into law earlier in the day, The Hill reports.
Under the reconciliation rules, which allow Senate Democrats to avoid a Republican filibuster and pass the bill with a simple 51-vote majority, members must engage in a debate for at least 20 hours before proceeding to a final vote (Rushing, The Hill, 3/24).
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans offered a number of amendments to the bill, which they hoped would delay the final vote and force Democrats into a series of politically difficult votes.
According to the Washington Post, the debate provides Republicans -- who have unanimously opposed the new law and the so-called "corrections" bill -- with a final opportunity to alter the bill (Murray/Montgomery, Washington Post, 3/24).
By the end of the seven hours of debate on Tuesday, Senate Republicans had introduced more than 30 amendments that addressed a variety of health care and other unrelated issues, according to Roll Call (Pierce/Stanton, Roll Call, 3/23). At least nine of the amendments were filed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) (The Hill, 3/23).
In a statement accompanying the amendments, Coburn said, "If we can’t repeal this bill in a single vote, we’ll attempt to take it apart piece by piece, section by section, payoff by payoff and replace it with common-sense solutions that work" (Roll Call, 3/23).
There are indications that the GOP plans to continue to offer more amendments to the corrections bill.
A Senate GOP aide said that Republicans in the next several days will introduce "a lot" of amendments. "We will have a solid period of time where we'll be voting. It will be one after another," the aide said, referencing the so-called "vote-a-rama" that will occur at the end of the debate (Edney, CongressDaily, 3/24).
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said that the series of votes could begin as soon as Wednesday afternoon and continue through the night into Thursday (Roll Call, 3/23). However, Democrats and Republicans have yet to reach an agreement on the voting process, the Post reports.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he expects the debate to end by Thursday night, with a final vote over the weekend.
According to the Post, any changes to the corrections bill would force the House to take up the measure again, which members passed on Sunday. The Post reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to keep the chamber in session through Friday, in case any additional action is required. Congress is scheduled to adjourn for its annual two-week Easter recess starting this weekend (Washington Post, 3/24).
Some of the amendments that were offered include:
- A proposal by Coburn that would prohibit people convicted of sexual offenses from using insurance coverage to obtain sexual enhancing drugs;
- An amendment by Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) that would force a referendum on gay marriage in the District of Columbia;
- A proposal by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) that would eliminate a requirement for large business owners to provide workers with insurance coverage;
- An amendment by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) that would exempt medical equipment for people with disabilities from a new medical device tax (Roll Call, 3/23);
- A proposal by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would redirect any savings generated through scheduled cuts to Medicare back into the program, rather than to other programs; and
- An amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would eliminate seven deals in the Senate bill that were awarded to Senate Democrats representing Connecticut, Louisiana, Montana and Nebraska (Wayne/Hunter, CQ Today, 3/23).
Senate Democrats said that they would be able to defeat all the amendments that are expected to be introduced during the debate process, Roll Call reports. They also expressed confidence that the reconciliation bill would withstand the series of parliamentary budget points of order that Republicans plan to raise (Roll Call, 3/23).
McConnell Introduces Bill To Repeal Law
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday introduced a bill (S 3152), sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), that would repeal the health reform legislation (CongressDaily, 3/23).
The bill is part of a broad "repeal and replace" campaign launched by Republicans to coincide with fall's midterm elections.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, "You're going to see this become, I think, one of the signature issues in the November 2010 election" (Washington Post, 3/24).