Senate prepares for long debate on health care

Sean McNally
November 21, 2009
Filed under Archives

The Affordable Health Care for America Act passed through the House on Nov. 7 by a narrow margin of 220 votes to 215. All eyes are now on the Senate to decide whether the bill will eventually make it to President Obama’s desk. The bill is projected to provide health coverage for over 96 percent of Americans and, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, will cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years.

Before the bill can be signed into law, the Senate must pass its own version of the bill. A congressional conference committee will need to combine the two bills into a consensus version to be approved again by both the House and the Senate.

With so many steps still ahead, the future of the bill is far from certain.

“Although there was great fanfare and celebration at the House bill passing with a slim majority, the additional hurdles in the Senate are formidable,” said Kyle Dell, associate professor of political science. “Passing health care legislation twice through the U.S. Senate is a tall order, even for a president who is personally popular.”

With all 40 Republican senators expected to vote against the bill, Senate Democrats will need all 58 Democrats and 2 independents to vote in favor of the bill to overcome an expected filibuster.

A major issue with the House bill is the public option. This allows a person to use government-run health coverage in lieu of buying coverage from an insurance company.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- Nev.) has pledged to add a public option to the Senate bill despite objections from key senators.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has publicly stated that he will try to block the bill if it includes a public option, even if individual states are allowed to opt out.

“It’s still a government-run health insurance plan that puts the federal tax-payer on the line,” said Lieberman in an Oct. 28 CNN. “I don’t want to do that at this point in our nation’s history.”

Another issue facing Senate Democrats on their road to gaining 60 votes is abortion. Anti-abortion Senators contend that the bill should not allow taxpayer money to go to people who buy health insurance that covers abortions.

Senate Democrats are trying to minimize the effects of the abortion issue, as it almost killed the bill in the House. Abortion is likely to be a pivotal point during debate in the Senate.

“If (the bill]) doesn’t make it clear that it does not pay for abortion, you can be sure I will vote against it,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D- Neb.) according to a Nov. 10 Wall Street Journal article.

Sen. Nelson and Sen. Robert Casey (D- Penn.) are the two biggest anti-abortion Democrats in the Senate. Both have been openly talking, even before the start of the debates, about how to ensure that public money does not go to fund abortions.

In the House, Rep. Bart Stupak (D- Mich.) introduced an amendment that blocked the government-administered health insurance from covering abortion and forbade anyone who received government subsidies from buying health insurance that covered abortion.

“I think that’s not fair,” said junior Elysa Polovin, co- president of Voices of Planned Parenthood (VOX). “I think everyone should have an equal opportunity to health coverage and that is not equal.”

With the margin for error so slim, the focus is on Senator Reid, who is up for re-election next year, to craft a health care bill that will win 60 votes to introduce on the Senate floor.

Although Democrats are pressing to get the Senate bill passed by Christmas, according to an article on CNN.com on Nov. 9, Senator Reid signaled uncertainty over whether the bill would be passed this year.

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