Healthcare Reform Update 2

You Are ‘Here’. It’s easy to get confused in Congress’s labyrinthine legislative process, so here’s a quick review for your convenience.

  • Over the summer, five Congressional committees-three in the House, two in the Senate-drafted versions of health care legislation. The last (and most important) version of health care legislation will be approved by the Senate Finance Committee sometime later this week or early next week.
  • Now, in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is melding the two Senate committee proposals into one version for presentation to the chamber. The big sticking point is whether to include the public option up front or to try to add it later as an amendment. Including the public option now will force an early floor fight; adding the public option later may make it harder to get the proposal into the final version.
  • Meanwhile, in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is consolidating the three House committee versions into one bill (which, given the tenor of the House members, will surely include a public option).
  • After Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi complete their work, they’ll send it to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for a cost estimate (a process called ‘scoring’).
  • Currently, a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ has settled into Capitol Hill. Mr. Reid has promised to present his version with the CBO’s price tag around Columbus Day, so the political storm is expected to break in both chambers late next week.

The Senate Finance Committee’s Sausagemaking Wouldn’t Pass FDA Standards. In an unconscionable act the Senate Finance Committee literally waited until the middle of the night-around 2 a.m.-before killing two amendments which Committee leaders didn’t like.

  • On September 24, the Finance Committee unanimously adopted the Enzi amendment, which would delay penalties on employers until the Secretary of Labor certifies that those penalties would not reduce wages or increase unemployment.
  • On September 30, the Finance Committee unanimously adopted the Bunning amendment, which would prevent the bill’s tax increases from taking effect until the Secretary of Veterans Affairs certifies that the tax increases would not increase the cost of care to veterans.

But in the early morning hours of October 2, with neither Mr. Enzi or Mr. Bunning present, the Committee changed the amendments to require only studies instead of certifications. This change not only takes the teeth out of the Enzi and Bunning amendments, it also foreshadows what we can expect in the future as the bill proceeds through the legislative process.

Nancy Pelosi: A Woman of Words or Deeds? In Speaker Pelosi‘s mission memo meant to define her tenure as Speaker, she wrote, “Members should have at least 24 hours to examine bill and conference report text prior to floor consideration.” Ms. Pelosi’s pledge can be found on the Speaker’s website or you can access it here (see page 24).

However, Ms. Pelosi has broken that promise on multiple occasions since she was elected as Speaker-the economic stimulus package, cap-and-trade legislation and expansion of S-CHIP. Nevertheless, when recently asked whether she supported a requirement for the health care bill to be posted online for three days before a vote by the House, Ms. Pelosi said, “Absolutely.”

Given the disparity between her words and deeds on this issue, the American people simply can’t trust Ms. Pelosi to keep her promise.

For a complete assessment of this issue, please go here.

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