At about 3:30pm today, the Senate started debate on the reconciliation bill.  Very low key so far, but amendments are starting to emerge, particularly an eye-popper from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, one of two docs in the chamber.

 

One of Coburn's amendments would prohibit federal taxpayer money, in the form of subsidies for the poor to buy insurance, from being used by sex offenders to buy drugs like Viagra.   It goes further, according to a release from his spokesperson, prohibiting coverage of "Viagra and other ED medications to convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders, and prohibits coverage of abortion drugs."

 

I've said in this blog before that Republicans were going to put forward really difficult amendments.  Pretty tough to disagree with this one, right?

 

Democrats are anxious to see no changes to this bill, as any change whatsoever would result in the bill being sent back to the House for approval...and the whole circus might start over again.   Republicans, of course, want that to happen, as any delay might mean House members could rethink their vote.

 

Other amendments are starting to come in.  The very first one, offered by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, leading the GOP effort on reconciliation, would take Medicare savings in the bill and plow them back into the same program.

 

The second amendment to be offered is one by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, which would remove a number of the so-called "sweetheart deals," provisions that are targeted to specific states, like the $300 million for Louisiana, which still suffers from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Republicans have dubbed this provision the "Louisiana Purchase."  McCain said in a floor speech that help for states in crisis is fine but not on a health care bill.

 

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, ina fiery speech, defended her provision and called McCain's amendment "a stunt," saying it was "beneath" McCain.   Landrieu said she tried to explain the request to McCain personally.

 

"I'm here to say one more time that the people of Lousiana do not deserve the derision," Landrieu said, her voice brimming with anger, "It was not in secret...I called a press conference with the governor of Louisiana, the Republican governor."

 

As for other GOP amendments coming forward, these are what we've seen so far:

 

  • Chuck Grassley of Iowa has one that would rescind the higher Medicare payments given to five so-called "frontier states" (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Utah).  Grassley would attempt to improve Medicare reimbursement for all rural states.
  • Grassley has another that would mandate that the President, Vice President, cabinet members and top White House staff get their health care through the newly-created health care exchanges.
  • George LeMieux of Florida would strike the overhaul of student lending, removing the core of the provision that puts the federal government as direct lender to college students.
  • Coburn has one that says no docs should be penalized for not performing abortions.  From his office's press release: "This amendment would ensure health care providers are not forced to participate in abortions or discriminated against because they choose not to perform abortions."
  • Coburn has another that he calls "bureaucrat cap and trade" -- from his office, this amendment:  "requires that for each government bureaucrat added to a government agency as a result of this act, there must be a corresponding decrease in a government bureaucrat at that agency."

 

It's unclear when they will start voting, but they are supposed to get to votes tonight.

 

Also, it's looking more and more like there will be no weekend session.