Rep. Miller: No amendments likely as healthcare reform bill moves forward

A House Democratic leader strongly hinted Friday that amendments won’t be allowed on the healthcare bill.

Hispanic members, abortion-rights opponents, supporters of “single-payer” healthcare and liberal members are all clamoring for the chance to offer amendments to the landmark legislation. Some want to change the bill, while others want to make a point or gauge support for their proposals.

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But Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a key player in the healthcare debate, said Friday he doesn’t expect those groups will have much of a chance.

“Unless there are major problems I would expect the opportunity for amendments to be very limited, if at all,” Miller said in a telephone news conference.

Miller chairs one of the committees of jurisdiction and also the House Democratic Policy Committee. Also, he is possibly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's closest ally.


Miller and fellow leader Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the dozens of closed-door caucus meetings and private consultations between leaders and the different sub-groups of House Democrats are replacing the need for amendments to be debated and voted upon on the House floor.

They also noted that the bill will be available online for three days before the vote and the previous versions of the bill have been online for months.

“There's been an openness about this process that’s been unprecedented,” DeLauro said.

Pelosi (D-Calif.) essentially decides whether to allow amendments. Technically the decision is up to the House Rules Committee, but the Speaker controls the committee through appointments.


It's not uncommon for leaders of the majority party in the House to prevent amendments being offered even by members of their own party. Pelosi didn't allow amendments on the climate change bill that passed in June. The minority party, though, generally gets at least one opportunity to amend the bill or vote on its own version of the legislation.

On Thursday, Pelosi signaled a reluctance to allow amendments.

“I’d have to be talked into it, I think, but — let’s put it this way — I’m open to it,” Pelosi said in a conference call with liberal bloggers.

The biggest amendment fight is about abortion. Abortion-rights opponents, including dozens of House Democrats, believe that the bill as drafted breaks the longstanding ban on taxpayer money funding abortions. That’s because people could be offered subsidies to buy private insurance that would include abortion.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) wants to offer an amendment that prevents plans that cover abortion from being part of the “exchanges” set up in the bill, where people could buy subsidized insurance. Abortion-rights supporters said people shouldn’t be prevented from buying private insurance that covers abortion.

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Stupak says he has 40 Democratic votes to block the bill from coming to the floor, a process called “taking down the rule.” Joined with all Republicans, that would be enough to block the legislation.

Talks between Stupak and leaders have been at a stalemate, but DeLauro said Friday “that issue is being addressed. It will unfold in the next couple of days.”

But House liberals also want an up-or-down vote on the “robust,” Medicare-based public health insurance option they have advocated. Pelosi (D-Calif.) replaced it with a version detached from Medicare in order to win the votes of centrist Democrats. Some liberal leaders have indicated that they too may try to block the bill from coming to the floor if they don't get a vote.

And members of the Congressional Hispanic and Asian-Pacific caucuses may also demand their own up-or-down votes on an amendment to repeal the constraints placed on legal, documented immigrants wanting to sign up for government-subsidized health insurance.

Also, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) secured a commitment from Pelosi and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) for a vote on a fully government-run, “single-payer” insurance program in July to get liberal support for moving the bill out of committee. Weiner said Thursday that he'd been told “all systems are go,” but leaders have pointedly declined to confirm that.

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