Senate GOP Test Drives Another Limited Health Care Repeal But Comes Up Short

Sporadically, over the last few months, Republicans have taken to the floor to try to tweak certain aspects of the recently-passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka: the health care reform law, almost as if to test-drive their broader goal of repealing and replacing the massive reform effort, should they gain a majority this fall after the midterm elections. Each time, they've run into a wall of opposition, and Wednesday was no different.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., sponsored a nonbinding resolution of disapproval that would eliminate health plans in existence before April 2010 from certain provisions of the law. The move by the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee failed to get the votes needed for passage, a fate that has befallen previous GOP efforts with regard to the law.

"The Enzi resolution is about protecting small business," the senator said, echoing a popular refrain from this campaign season to an even more popular constituency, as both sides fight to show they are protecting Main Street.

"The fun has just begun," Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, chided on the Senate floor, as he railed against the law and its coming regulations. The senator mocked his 2008 presidential campaign foe pulling from a speech President Obama gave in which he said, "We don't want to take over your health care." But McCain said that's exactly what the law is intended to do.

In a statement from his office, Enzi called the grandfather provision one that was "supposed to spare small businesses already providing health insurance to their employees many of the higher costs and new mandates the law imposes. If small businesses lose their grandfathered status, they will be required to comply with new insurance mandates. These new mandates include requirements to provide a federal minimum benefit package and to waive co-payments for certain services."

"It will result in 50% of all employees being in plans ineligible for grandfathered status," Enzi said, as he and McCain conversed back and forth on the Senate floor.

"Part of the sleaze that went into" making this law, McCain accused.

Not so, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, a key Obama ally. The Majority Whip shot back that Enzi, McCain, and their fellow Republicans were just trying to "give (insurance companies) more protections so they can raise costs," repeating a popular refrain from Democrats during debate over the historic reform law.

"All of the people standing on the floor railing against government-administered health care are covered by government-administered health care," Durbin said, adding that Democrats were just trying to afford Americans that same benefit.

Durbin said the Enzi motion "empowers insurance companies" to charge consumers more, with the possibility of "bankrupting" families.

"Ever since the day that President Obama signed it into law, my friends on the Republican side have made it clear they intend to use every conceivable opportunity they have to appeal it," HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, charged, adding, "This resolution is another attempt to make good on that by undoing some of the critical protections."

Harkin said the Enzi resolution "if passed, businesses and Americans could be in the worst of all worlds, losing the clear laws that allow them to keep the plans they have while not gaining additional consumer protections that apply when their plan changes."

Under the rule on this topic issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the IRS, "Grandfathered plans are not exempt from requirements related to annual and lifetime limits, dependent coverage to age 26, rescission, pre-existing condition exclusions, waiting periods, employer mandates, and tax provisions."

The White House announced its opposition to the measure in a statement of policy Wednesday, in which it makes clear, ""Adoption of the joint resolution would result in significant uncertainty as to what kind of changes may be made to coverage without a loss of grandfather status. If S.J. Res. 39 were approved, it could be argued that any change in coverage could be made while retaining grandfather status, creating confusion about which plans are actually grandfathered and stripping consumers of additional benefits and protections."

Republicans have tried to make changes to a number of provisions in the law, including a mandate that some say could have a profound effect on small businesses, the so-called 1099 requirement which says all businesses must fill out a 1099 IRS form every time they spend $600 or more. The provision in the law was designed to stop fraud and is a major source of revenue for the bill. Democrats tried to expand the dollar amount recently and trim the filing mandate, but Republicans wanted full repeal. The deadlock has resulted in no action this year.

It's all rhetoric we've heard before, but depending on the outcome of Nov. 2, it's all rhetoric we're likely to hear many more times over.