WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate Republicans are trying to kill the health care reform bill by offering an amendment that would not allow the measure to apply Medicare funds to other programs. “This bill was an atrocity,” New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg said on the floor.
The amendment would block an important provision of the health bill that was passed Tuesday, keeping it from taking $523 billion from Medicare over five years to fund health insurance subsidies and to extend its solvency by nearly a decade.
“We are funding this program in large part on the backs of seniors,” Gregg said in offering the amendment. The new bill makes some cuts to medicare but is supported by the AARP and doctor groups in part because it does a better job of paying for prescription drugs.
The Congressional Budget Office said late last week that the measure would extend Medicare’s solvency.
Idaho Republican James Risch said Democrats must think Americans are “so stupid” if Democrats expect them to believe that taking half a trillion dollars from Medicare will lead to its improvement. “I can’t understand this,” he said.
Montana Democrat Max Baucus replied that these arguments are not new and saqd that lawmakers took the cuts into consideration when they approved the bills. “We’re talking about something that’s history,” he said.
Baucus suggested the proposal was more about undoing the health legislation than about Medicare and called it “a killer amendment.”
The health bill will cut away at the private Medicare Advantage insurance plans, which cover about one quarter of seniors. As it stands now, Florida seniors would be able to keep their Medicare Advantage plans, but most other seniors would have to suffice with regular Medicare. Although erasing this Florida exemption is part of the package of changes that the Senate is considering.
But the health bill would also supply seniors with $250 this year to help pay for prescription drugs, a figure that will rise as the health bill is fully implemented. The bill is set to ultimately fill the “doughnut hole” where Medicare stops paying for prescriptions when the costs get to a certain point, but picks up again when the costs exceed a higher trigger.
The Republican amendment is offered as the Senate considers a package of changes to the health bill that was signed into law on Tuesday. The changes are an effort to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House health bills passed months ago.
But because the Senate can only hold a reconciliation vote on a bill that is already law, House members took a leap of faith and passed the Senate version with the understanding that changes would be adopted to make the passed Senate bill more like the House bill.
If the House had not passed the Senate bill, both the Senate and the House would have had to pass the bill negotiated from their two separate versions. The chances of Senate passage appeared slim after the Democrats lost their super majority with the replacement of Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy with Republican Scott Brown.
Now that the bill is passed, the process known as reconciliation — where only a simple majority vote is needed for passage — will be used in the Senate during the vote to pass the changes.
Reconciliation has traditionally been reserved for budget measures and Republicans are clamoring that it can’t be used for the health measures.
“Health care is the biggest financial challenge facing the nation,” Baucus argued. “Health care is exactly the kind of thing that reconciliation was supposed to address.”