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Abortion, immigration, taxes enter health mark up

Hot-button political issues were the order of the day during the Senate Finance Committee’s continuing mark up of its healthcare reform bill.

Senators considered amendments to the bill on abortion, immigration and taxes. Though Republicans on the panel did not succeed in altering the healthcare legislation, they did force Democrats to take votes that will provide additional fodder for conservative criticism.

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Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Congress should work with Trump and not 'cowboy' on Saudi Arabia, says GOP senator US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK MORE (R-Utah) offered two abortion-related amendments Wednesday, both of which were rejected on mostly party-line votes, though Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) switched sides.

Hatch’s first amendment would have required women to purchase a separate, supplemental insurance plan to cover abortion services. The aim, he said, was to make existing laws against federal money being used to pay for abortions, and the language in the healthcare bill, ironclad.

“All I'm asking -- my gosh -- is for specific language in the bill that prohibits federal dollars from being used to fund abortions,” Hatch said.

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach Republican Senate candidate apologizes after swastika spotted in campaign ad Poll: Dem Stabenow has 9-point lead over Republican James in Michigan Senate race MORE (D-Mich.) described Hatch's amendment as "insulting" to women.

Democrats on the committee, along with Snowe, rejected Hatch's argument, saying it would be unfair to require women to purchase separate insurance coverage for abortion services. "It's discriminating against women," said committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (D-Mont.), who authored the bill.

The bill hews to existing laws on federal funding for abortion, Baucus argued. "The mark makes it clear that no federal funds will be used for abortion. None. None. It's very clear," he said. The existing rules, known as the Hyde amendment, includes exceptions for abortions from pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or when the life of the woman is endangered.

Under the legislation, the federal tax credits used by individuals could not be used for abortion services. Instead, the policyholder's share of the premiums would be "segregated" from the federal dollars and go toward paying for abortion coverage.

That distinction is inadequate because money is inherently fungible, Hatch argued, and the bill needs a clearer prohibition to ensure no federal money goes to pay for an abortion. "You can't establish complete segregation of the funds."

A second Hatch amendment, designed to strengthen existing "conscience clause" laws protecting healthcare workers from performing abortions or other services to which they have moral or ethical objections, also failed on a 10-13 vote.

On immigration, Finance Committee ranking member Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review MORE (R-Iowa) sought to strengthen the laws requiring people to validate their citizenship or legal residency in order to obtain federal health benefits. Under Grassley’s amendment, which fell on a party-line vote, applicants would have been required to show photo identification.

The bill healthcare bill would require applicants to verify their names, places of birth and Social Security numbers. In addition, legal immigrants would have to wait five years, as under current law, after obtaining citizenship or legal residency to access federal healthcare benefits such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program or receive tax credits or purchase insurance through the exchange created by the legislation.

But the would not require them to show a photo ID, such as a driver's license. Without that requirement, the bill "remains dearly lacking when it comes to identification," Grassley said. "Frankly, I'm very perplexed as to why anyone would oppose this amendment," he said.

But Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who represents the border state of New Mexico, said that the type of fraud Grassley said he wants to prevent is highly uncommon. "The way I see the amendment, it's a solution without a problem," Bingaman said.

Republicans also failed to win votes on amendment that would have stripped billions of dollars in fees on health insurers and other healthcare companies from the bill. Those fees, Republicans argued, will be passed on to customers and result in higher healthcare costs and higher insurance premiums.

One substantial amendment was added to the bill Wednesday, at the behest of Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Florida extending early voting in counties hit by hurricane Poll:Majority of voters say health care 'very important' to them in midterms MORE (D-Fla.) for the aging population of his home state. "We should not raise taxes on the seniors to pay for health reform," Nelson said. Snowe joined the Democrats during the vote.

Republicans on the panel attacked the idea of raising the deductibilty threshold to 10 percent for anyone. "I think this is the worst idea in an ocean of bad ideas," Hatch said. Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment to leave the current law in place but the committee rejected it and Snowe again voted with the Democrats.