September 30, 2009
By Brian Darling
President Obama and liberals in Congress seems intent on passing
comprehensive health care reform, even though polls suggest it is
unpopular with the American people. And despite the potential
political risks to moderate Democrats, the President and left-wing
leadership in Congress are determined to pass the measure using a
rare parliamentary procedure.
The Senate plans to attach Obamacare to a House-passed
non-healthcare bill. Ironically, nobody knows what that legislation
looks like, because it has not yet been written. Yet many members
plan to rubber-stamp Obamacare without reading or understanding the
The Senate Finance Committee worked furiously last week to mark
up a "conceptual framework" of health care reform. The committee
actually rejected an amendment by Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) to
mandate that the bill text and a final cost analysis by the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) be publicly available at least 72
hours before the Finance Committee votes on final passage.
The following four-step scenario describes one way liberals plan
to work the rules in their favor to get Obamacare through the
Step 1: The Senate Finance Committee must first
approve the marked-up version of Sen. Max Baucus' (D.-Mont.)
conceptual framework. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(D.-Nev.) can say that two Senate Committees have passed a health
care bill, which will allow him to take extraordinary steps to get
the bill on the Senate floor.
During the mark-up last week, members had difficulty offering
amendments and trying to make constructive changed because they
lacked actual legislative text and Baucus made unilateral last
minute changes. For example, the AP reported that "under pressure
from fellow Democrats, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee
decided to commit an additional $50 billion over a decade toward
making insurance more affordable for working-class families."
Step 2: Sen. Reid will take the final product
of the Senate Finance Committee and merge it with the product of
the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee,
which passed on a party-line vote in July.
Usually, a bill is voted out of committee, and then the Senate
takes up the final product of the committee so that all 100
senators can have a hand in the process. With some help from the
Obama administration, Reid will decide what aspects of the HELP and
Finance Committee bills to keep.
Step 3: Now, Obamacare will be ready to hitch a
ride on an unrelated bill from the House. Sen. Reid will move to
proceed to H.R. 1586, a bill to impose a tax on bonuses received by
certain TARP recipients. This bill was passed by the House in the
wake of the AIG bonus controversy and is currently sitting on the
Senate Legislative Calendar.
The move to proceed needs 60 votes to start debate. After the
motion is approved, Sen. Reid will offer Obamacare as a complete
substitute to the unrelated House-passed bill. This means that the
entire healthcare reform effort will be included as an amendment to
a TARP bill that has been collecting dust in the Senate for
Step 4: For this strategy to work, the
proponents would need to hold together the liberal caucus of 58
Democrats (including Paul Kirk who was named last Thursday to
replace Sen. Kennedy), and the two Independent senators (Joe
Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont). These
members will have to all hold hands and vote against any
filibuster. Once the Senate takes up the bill, only a simple
majority of members will be needed for passage. It's possible one
of the endangered moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln
(Ark.), could vote to stop a filibuster then vote against Obamacare
so as not to offend angry constituents.
Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, all the
House would have to do is pass the bill without changes and
President Obama will be presented with his health care reform
measure. If this plan does not work, the Senate and House
leadership may go back to considering using reconciliation to pass
Adopting this secret plan will not strike most Americans as a
transparent, bipartisan, effective way to change how millions of
Americans get their health care.
Brian Darling is director of U.S.
Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Human Events
President Obama and liberals in Congress seems intent on passing comprehensive health care reform, even though polls suggest it is unpopular with the American people. And despite the potential political risks to moderate Democrats, the President and left-wing leadership in Congress are determined to pass the measure using a rare parliamentary procedure.
Health Care Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
Senior Fellow for Government Studies
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