WASHINGTON (CN) – Revealing deep rifts among Democrats, senators voted Tuesday evening on a string of major amendments to the health care bill, rejecting a Republican effort 45-54 to send the bill back to committee and canning Democratic proposals to allow prescription drugs to be imported. But senators passed a Democratic amendment 97-1 to protect middle class families from hypothetical tax increases.
The amendment, approved 97-1 and offered by Montana Democrat Max Baucus, would provide tax relief to middle class families and small businesses and expand health insurance coverage to children.
Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson cast the lone opposing vote.
The motion to send the health bill back to committee, introduced by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, failed 45-54. It would have sent the bill back to the Senate Finance Committee to include language ensuring that no person earning less than a $200,000 salary would face increased federal taxes as a result of the bill, or for married couples with less than $250,000 joint salaries.
Five Democrats broke ranks to support the Republican effort to slow or kill the bill by sending it back to committee: Evan Bayh from Indiana, Maria Cantwell from Washington, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Ben Nelson from Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas.
One prescription drug amendment, offered by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan, failed 51-48. It would have allowed prescription drugs from Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand to be imported to the United States, often at significantly cheaper prices. Lawmakers, however, cited safety concerns during floor debate.
While President Obama has campaigned saying he would ease restrictions on prescription drug imports, the White House came out against the Dorgan amendment, also citing concerns over the safety of the drugs.
Administration officials have denied allegations that the White House opposed the amendment in an effort to keep pharmaceutical industry support for the health bill.
A different prescription drug amendment proposed by New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg earned five more votes than the first, but still failed 56-43. It competed with the Dorgan amendment and would have allowed for imports of drugs, but would have also required the government to certify the safety of each drug, something Democrats and Republicans said would be near impossible.
Many countries have price controls on pharmaceuticals, allowing the drugs to be sold cheaper there than in the United States.
Assuming that the health bill garners no Republican support, it – like all other amendments — will need all 60 votes from the members of the Democratic caucus. Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Illinois, and Democrat Ben Nelson from Nebraska recently criticized the health bill.