WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate debate on the national health care bill got off to a not unexpectedly contentious start with Republicans calling the bill “blasphemy” and Democrats calling their opponents patsies of the insurance industry and do-nothings. “Stand up and tell us what you are for,” challenged Richard Durbin of Illinois.
“My friends on the other side of the aisle typically do the bidding of the insurance industry,” Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown said, attacking the resistance of the Republicans.
“This is a good way for our nation to go broke,” said Wyoming Republican Michael Enzi.
The debate on Friday precedes a crucial vote expected for Saturday that would send the bill, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to the Senate floor. A filibuster has not yet been invoked by Republicans. If it is, a full 60 votes will be required to move the bill to the floor.
On the floor, a simple majority is required for passage. But observors expect weeks of markup before a final vote is taken.
In today’s debate, Democrats argued that the bill would save lives and money, that it would enhance Medicare, and that it would draw down the deficit and insurance abuse. They also noted that Republicans have not put forward an alternative.
Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow noted that 4,500 people died last year because they could not get access to health coverage. “Shame on us,” she said.
Republicans questioned the accuracy of the Congressional Budged Office analysis, saying the legislation would cost much more than estimated and labeled the bill as a grand-scale government intervention in health insurance. They said it would raise taxes and premiums, and in stark contrast to the Democrats, said that it would shrink Medicare.
The legislation would extend coverage to 94 percent of the population by greatly expanding Medicaid, imposing a fine on businesses that don’t provide coverage if they have more than 50 employees, and by requiring most Americans to buy insurance.
Insurers would also have to accept all applicants without setting premiums based on their client’s health.
“Where is the Republican bill?” Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin said to Republican criticism, adding that Republicans are already agreeing to vote against the bill. “Just criticizing isn’t enough. Stand up and tell us what you are for.”
Republicans alleged that the bill — which covers an industry worth a sixth of the nation’s economy — is being rushed, and said lawmakers should be given the chance to fully analyze the bill.
Democrat Stabenow said the Republicans just want to “wait, wait, wait,” and Durbin asked, “Do they know that the cost of health insurance is going up three times faster than wages?”
Republicans also cited the magnitude and complexity of the 2,074 page bill, frequently using it as a prop. New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall from New Mexico noted that the Republicans had only used one side of the paper when printing. Udall said he prints his bills double-sided.
“Listen to your doctors, not to Rush Limbaugh,” Udall urged. Doctors’ organizations have expressed strong support for the health legislation.
In suggesting insurance company abuse, Udall said that industry profits have risen by 428 percent over seven years, and that premiums doubled over nine years. Democrats said the bill will diminish mistreatment.
Republicans said the bill is not the solution they are looking for, protesting that it does not address doctor liability, and arguing that private insurance would raise premiums as doctors and hospitals balance out the costs of increased Medicaid patients.
The Senate bill is largely more moderate than the bill passed out of the House two weeks ago. The $849 billion Senate bill is less than the $1 trillion House bill and the bill before the Senate would extend coverage to 94 percent of the population, smaller than the House’s 96 percent.
But the Senate bill outdoes the House bill in deficit reduction by cutting the deficit by $130 billion over the course of ten years, more than the $104 billion cut predicted under the House bill.
It does not include the controversial abortion restriction included in the House bill.
The CBO has determined that, while the bill reduces government funding of Medicare, it would “substantially reduce the growth of Medicare’s payment rates for most services.”
But the CBO snapshot over the next ten years is misleading, Republicans argued, comparing the legislation to a ponzi scheme and claiming that Americans will pay into the health system before it has to pay out. This prediction that the bill will cut the deficit does not reflect the long-term, they said.
“Bernie Madoff would be proud of this legislation,” New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg said. “This is blasphemy!”