U.S. House Forced to Vote Again on Health Overhaul (Update1)

By Ryan J. Donmoyer and James Rowley
Bloomberg News
March 25, 2010


March 25 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House of Representatives will have to vote again on changes to a landmark overhaul of the country's health system after the Senate's parliamentarian rejected two provisions in the measure.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said the changes are minor and related to education, not health care. Still, any alteration requires the bill be adopted again by the House before it can be sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law. The House is prepared to pass the bill as soon as the Senate finishes with it, said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement came shortly before 3 a.m., after the Senate had considered and rejected 30 Republican amendments to the last piece of U.S. health-care legislation. The Senate will resume work at 9:45 a.m., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. He accused Republicans of obstructing passage of the legislation with amendments they knew would fail.

"It's very clear that there's no attempt to improve the bill; there's an attempt to destroy this bill," Reid said.

Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, yesterday said he doubted his party could stop the Democrats, who are trying to pass a package of key revisions to the law signed this week by Obama.

"I don't think it's possible" that Republicans will be able to force significant changes to the bill, Kyl said in an interview. The Senate may vote as early as today on the changes to the plan, which the House approved on March 21.

House Changes

House Democrats had demanded the changes, which cover everything from scaling back an excise tax on high-value insurance plans -- a levy opposed by labor-union allies of the party -- to taxing unearned income to fund Medicare.

The Senate began voting in late afternoon on a series of Republican amendments aimed at sending the bill back to the House for another vote. In the first vote, senators rejected 56- 42 a proposal by New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg to forbid the use of $529 billion in projected Medicare savings for new government programs.

The health-care overhaul will require Americans to have proof of health insurance, expand coverage to an estimated 32 million uninsured people and impose new regulations on insurers that boost consumer clout.

The law, with some provisions taking effect this year, is likely to shape Obama's presidency and be a central issue in November's elections to determine control of Congress. It was enacted without a single Republican vote.

Reconciliation

Lawmakers are using a process called reconciliation that enables Democrats to push the bill through the Senate with 51 votes. Typically, Senate legislation can be subjected to a delay by filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end.

To ensure approval of the measure, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said on the Senate floor, "I will oppose any amendment no matter how good that amendment may appear to be."

Among the amendments turned back was a proposal by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, that would remove what he called "sweetheart deals" that helped secure Democratic votes through more Medicaid funding for Louisiana and for hospitals in Hawaii and Tennessee.

These included the one Democrats struck with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to prevent a drop in Medicaid reimbursements after Hurricane Katrina and another to provide medical care for victims of asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana.

'Political Stunt'

Montana Democrat Max Baucus, one of the architects of the health-care bill, called that amendment "a political stunt at the expense of victimized people."

The Senate rejected another amendment by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to prohibit federal money from providing coverage of Viagra for convicted child molesters and rapists and for drugs to induce abortions.

Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate health committee, offered an amendment that would remove from the overhaul a requirement that most employers provide coverage to workers or face penalties.

Also today, Republicans invoked a Senate rule to force cancellation of several committee meetings. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said they did it in an "ill-advised protest of meaningful health-reform legislation."

Among committees whose hearings were canceled were Leahy's Judiciary Committee, the Armed Services Committee and a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan called the Republican actions "pointless and blind obstructionism."

"That's the rule of the Senate," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Stewart declined to comment further.

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