November 13, 2009 | Commentary on Health Care
With the House passing Speaker Pelosi's version of Obamacare by a 220-215 vote on Saturday night, the next arena for battle on an attempted government takeover of health care is the United States Senate. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) correctly stated on "Face the Nation" this past Sunday that "the House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate." The House bill contained two issues that make it DOA in the Senate: excessive cost (over $1 trillion by Congressional Budget Office estimate) and a radioactive public option.
That being said, truth is that Obamacare is still alive and kicking in the Senate, because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) is working to craft a less burdensome health care bill that will have the support of almost every member of the Democrat caucus. According to news reports, Reid has promised the President that he can deliver Senate passage of a bill by Christmas. Sadly, this will be another expensive lump of coal delivered to the American people.
The Senate bill will be far different from the liberal dream bill that Pelosi ushered though the House. The Senate's unique and sometimes arcane rules allow for unlimited debate and the opportunity for members to raise points of order against measures that violate the annual budget. Reid will need 60 votes to get it passed in the Senate. Once passed in the Senate, the House and Senate will have to convene a conference committee to work out difference between the two bills before both bodies vote again on Obamacare.
The hurdles to passage are many. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Independent Democrat from Connecticut, has pledged "as a matter of conscience" to filibuster any bill containing the pubic option. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine) has pledged to support a bill that contains a public option with a trigger. This version of the pubic option is dependent on a bureaucrat's measuring a private insurance company's ability to provide coverage. Reid has publicly stated that he will include a public option with the states being given an opportunity to op out from the program. Yet even this version may not have enough support to pass in the Senate. With the Pelosi version of a public option DOA, Reid must carefully craft a scaled-back version of the scheme.
Cost will be a huge issue going forward. Sen. Judd Gregg (R.-N.H.) argues that the cost of the House healthcare bill is far higher than the $900 billion figure that President Obama promised as the final cost for Obamacare. Gregg said of the CBO estimate, "Over the first 10 years, this legislation builds in gross new spending of $1.7 trillion -- and most of the new spending doesn't even start until 2014. Once that spending is fully phased in, the House Democratic bill rings up at more than $3 trillion over ten years." The criticism has been bipartisan, with Sen. Kent Conrad (D.-N.D.) calling Pelosi's recipe for funding healthcare reform "a Ponzi scheme of the first order." Fees and premiums start getting collected in 2011, yet the program doesn't pay out benefits until 2016. If you take the score from 2014 for 10 years you come up with a staggering cost to the taxpayers of $2.4 trillion. The left has used budget gimmicks to bring the score down, yet the House version will still bust the budget and add trillions to the national debt that is now hovering around $12 trillion.
The abortion issue was a huge roadblock for Obamacare in the House. Rep. Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.) won a vote to restrict federal abortion funding and this funding restriction, if signed into law, would be the first time a ban on the federal funding of abortion has become the law of the land. Pro-abortion groups are livid and are working to make sure that the final legislation sent to the President does not contain the strong pro-life language. The votes may not be there in the Senate to attach Stupak's language, but if an attempt to do so fails, the pro-life movement might oppose any Senate version of Obamacare without the restrictions. So the abortion issue may further complicate the prospects of getting a bill to the President's desk.
One of the dirty little secrets in the Senate is that Sen. Reid has purposefully made it impossible for the American people to read the bill. Reid has yet to release to the public his plan. The American people have the right to know what is in that bill and Sen. Reid has done his best to make it virtually impossible for the American people to participate in the Senate consideration of Obamacare.
This debate most likely will commence after Thanksgiving with the goal of completing Senate work on a bill before Christmas. If the bill passes the Senate, then the next step is for both the House and Senate to vote on the version of Obamacare that the leadership agrees to submit in the House and Senate as the final version of the bill. This process will run into next year. What happens in the next few weeks in the Senate is critical to the prospects for Obamacare.
Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Human Events