And So It Begins…: Senate's First Votes on Final Obamacare Bill

For the past couple of days, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Erica Werner have been reporting via the Associated Press on what happened in the first round of Senate votes on the “final” health care reform bill. Not surprisingly, the Democrats are getting pretty much what they want,… so far.

On Thursday, an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, and Olympia Snowe, R-ME, focusing on women’s health issues, passed 61-39. Republicans voiced concerns that the provision gave the HHS secretary “authority to require health plans to cover additional preventive services for women. The Congressional Budget Office said the amendment would cost $940 million over a decade.” Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, introduced an amendment that would have stripped out over $400 billion in cuts to projected Medicare spending, but it was narrowly defeated, 58-42 (with 60 votes needed to pass anything). For what it’s worth, an amendment sponsored by Michael Bennet, D-CO, was unanimously approved, ensuring that no current, legally-guaranteed benefits in traditional Medicare will be cut by the reform legislation.

AP - Senators Lieberman, Collins, & Specter

On Friday, Republicans tried to take out the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act from the bill. This is a long-term care insurance program long championed by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, and designed to assist the disabled and seniors. A few Democrats — notably including Max Baucus, D-MT, and Kent Conrad, D-ND — joined their colleagues across the aisle in opposing the program, citing budget concerns. But, the program stayed in with a 51-47 vote. Republicans also attempted to reinstate $120 billion scheduled to be cut from Medicare Advantage, but they were defeated in a 57-41 vote.

Sen. Harry Reid

V.P. Biden before an audience

Besides the specific votes themselves, the other important takeaway here is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, still can’t get a firm 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority. The problem members are moderates like Ben Nelson, D-NE, and Joe Lieberman, I-CT. The problem issues are abortion coverage and a government-run insurance plan (aka the “public option”). Of course, a few are also blaming delays on Republicans. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, told reporters, “Republicans are not being forthcoming in either allowing us to vote on our own amendments or in offering their own.” I suspect not only is Sen. Durbin wrong, but he needs to quit whining and concentrate on the internal divisions within his own party.

In a rare Saturday session, Republicans offered their third amendment in as many days — this one sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE. The measure would have “eliminated $42 billion in cuts over 10 years to agencies that provide home health care to seniors under Medicare,” but it was defeated in a 53-41 vote, despite support from four moderate Democrats. These are politically risky votes, especially for those like Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, who are facing a difficult re-election year. There was a lot of intense discussion among Democrats to come up with a government-run insurance plan acceptable to all.

And, there was a lot of heated argument between Dems & Reps about who is really looking out for the best interests of seniors. “These are truly some of the most vulnerable Americans that receive these [home health care] services and the cuts are placed directly on their backs,” Johanns said. Democrats, on the other hand, maintain that the proposed cuts “would reduce overpayments, inefficiency and waste in the popular program, thereby strengthening it.” Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, then offered an amendment to protect those home health benefits that are currently guaranteed, which passed unanimously (96-0).

One final comment… Let’s assume that Harry Reid & Co. finally agree to remove all government-funded abortion from the bill, thereby getting the vote of pro-life Democrats like Nelson. Let’s also assume that, somehow, they are convinced to take out the “public option”, thus gaining votes from hold-outs like Lieberman. While these might be seen as “victories”, Republicans and conservatives should not celebrate for long. First, as long as Lefties like Reid, Pelosi, & Obama are in the majority, they will keep pushing to get abortion coverage and a “public option” in place some way, somehow. Second, there is a whole LOT more to the current Obamacare bill that is cause for deep concern — e.g., HUGE costs resulting in increased federal deficit and increased taxes for us taxpayers, greatly increased insurance costs, increased governmental interference in private family matters, forced unionism of healthcare professionals (giving unions more money & influence), reduced compensation for healthcare professionals, reduced options and rationed care for all (including poor, disabled, & elderly), etc. Americans must continue to fight against Obamacare in all combinations and forms.

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