Senate GOP backs off; healthcare ‘fixes’ could pass Thursday

Senate Republicans have backed away from a plan to offer hundreds of amendments to slow the passage of healthcare reform fixes under budget reconciliation.

This means the Senate will finish work on House-demanded changes to healthcare reform law sooner than expected.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped to finish the process by Friday or Saturday but now Thursday afternoon appears a possible end-point.

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Special budget rules known as reconciliation limit floor debate in the Senate to 20 hours and enable the majority party to pass legislation with 51 votes.

But the rules do not limit the number of amendments that can be offered once debate has expired.

Senate Republicans had threatened to offer scores or even hundreds of amendments to keep the healthcare legislation from getting out of the chamber.

But GOP lawmakers have decided not to employ the dilatory tactic and instead call for votes on substantive amendments.

“We’ve decided that offering 200 or 300 amendments doesn’t make sense,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of the Senate’s leading conservatives. “The leadership has asked us to focus on substantive amendments.”

DeMint predicted the voting could wrap up by Thursday afternoon.

Twenty healthcare amendments were pending on the Senate floor as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Republicans plan to call for votes on another tranche of amendments but these are expected to have a solid connection to healthcare reform, instead of unrelated issues such as the legality of gay marriage in Washington, D.C.

“I had 50 amendments, I still have them in my back pocket, but I’ll probably only offer two or three,” said DeMint, who plans to offer an amendment affecting the interstate commerce of insurance plans. 

DeMint said Republicans will narrow the scope of amendments but still make Democrats take tough votes on healthcare. These votes could be used for campaign ads in October and November.


Democrats have already voted to table an amendment offered by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would have halted Medicare spending cuts to fund federal subsidies to the uninsured. They also tabled a motion sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to strip from healthcare reform any taxes on individuals who earn less than $200,000 or families earning less than $250,000.

Republicans had initially offered amendments on a range of issues with little relation to healthcare reform, earning harsh criticism from Democrats.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) offered an amendment to instruct the District of Columbia to immediately suspend the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and hold a referendum on the issue.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) offered an amendment to prohibit federal funding of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a liberal group that recently filed for bankruptcy.

“The first round of amendments they filed were unfortunately not serious,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.). “It sounded like it was going to be the usual fare.”

Durbin said if Republicans were going to be “more serious” by calling for votes only on substantive healthcare amendments, “it’s a good outcome.”

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