Posted on 24 Mar 2010
The Senate debated legislation combining the last pieces to the Democratic overhaul of the health-care system and a shake-up to the student-loan industry, in what promised to be a contentious few days.
The No. 2 Senate Democrat accused Republicans Wednesday of refusing to accept the finality of health-care changes, a day after President Barack Obama signed the most sweeping medical system remake since Medicare.
"This is a political exercise for too many on the other side of the aisle," said Sen. Dick Durbin. "We're going to tell our people back home, 'It's time to govern. It's time to lead.'"
Mr. Durbin appeared Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show with South Carolina's Jim DeMint, who had said last year he believed the health-care overhaul would turn out to Mr. Obama's "Waterloo." "America doesn't want a broken presidency,'' countered Mr. Durbin (D., Ill.).
Mr. DeMint didn't back down, saying "Americans are very angry," not only with the substance of the health-care bill, but also with the process Democrats used to muscle it through Congress.
The Senate is now debating a series of corrections demanded by House lawmakers in order for their support for the main health-care bill.
In some cases these changes are significant. The implementation of an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans to help pay for the wider health-care overhaul would be delayed until 2018. Subsidies to individuals to help them afford mandatory health insurance would be increased.
Democratic leaders added the student-loan industry changes at the last minute. This was again to partially offset the cost of the ambitious health-care changes, and also because it was likely the last opportunity Democrats have to overhaul the student-lending system this year.
Because Democrats are employing a fast-track budgetary procedure known as reconciliation, the final package will only require 51 votes to pass, not the 60 normally required to approve major pieces of legislation in the Senate.
Two centrist Democrats have said they will oppose the legislative package because they disagree with the decision to add the student-lending shake-up.
Democrats won an initial procedural vote necessary to allow the lawmakers to begin consideration of the health-care bill.
There will now be 20 hours of debate as Republicans try one last time to make arguments against the sweeping health-care changes.
From there, the minority party has the right to bring up unlimited numbers of amendments, each of which would require a vote.
Republicans plan to offer a flurry of amendments to the bill, which could delay its passage for days.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) said that they have "made no determination of how many amendments" would be introduced, but that they already had plenty ready to go.
"I think we want to have a number of amendments that will highlight deficiencies in the bill, help educate the American people as to the problems in it, and give the Democrats an opportunity to correct some of them," Mr. Kyl said.
The amendments will allow Republicans to delay for as long as possible passage of the final piece of the Democratic health-care change.
Senate Democrats are expected to force the Republicans to hold back-to-back votes without a break, setting up some very long work sessions in the coming days.
For Democrats, it is a test of whether leadership can keep all of its numbers together voting onside. If the Republicans succeed at winning even a single change to the legislative package, it would be a major headache for Democrats as the bill would have to go back to the House for another vote before President Obama could sign it into law.
Democrats on Tuesday expressed confidence that no parts of the second health-care bill would fall prey to Republican procedural objections. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, (D., N.D.) said that he planned to issue a statement later Tuesday that the Budget Committee found that no provisions in the bill should be removed.
"A lot of things that we thought could be [procedural] violations have been taken out," Mr. Conrad said. "We think this bill is completely clean."