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Epic Fail: Obamacare Going Back to House, Dem Strategy Collapses with GOP Parliamentary Win

March 25th, 2010 by AHFF Geoff

Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) Closed the Proceedings at 2:45AM After A Parlimentary Ruling Ensured that the House Would Be Forced To Hold Another Vote

In a most unwelcome development for President Barack Obama and the Democrats, the Senate Parliamentarian made two ruling in the GOP’s favor on point of orders regarding the add-on student loans portion of the reconciliation bill, meaning that Obamacare must return to the House for another vote.  Democrats have been parrying GOP amendments all night long with the excuse that no changes can be made because the bill must pass now without any further House votes while admitting some agreement with some of the merits of the amendments themselves. Politico reports:

The all-night session came as Republicans offered 29 amendments in a final attempt to scuttle the bill, or at least force Democrats into taking politically difficult votes that could be used against them in November. Democrats steadily rejected each amendment, arguing that any changes would send the bill back to the House for another vote, an outcome Senate Democrats worked mightily to avoid before the parliamentarian’s ruling early Thursday.

Obama and the Democrats now face the worst of both worlds: after having voted down many reasonable amendments, such as closing the exemption from Obamacare’s rules for top Congressional and White House leadership or banning the use of federal funds to purchase viagra for sex offenders, for the sake of avoiding another House vote, now there will be another House vote, making the rejection of all GOP amendments appear unreasonable. It has been a long night in the Senate, with continuous voting occurring all night until about 3AM, with 29 GOP Obamacare amendments voted down in with only a few Democratic crossover votes. Of course, no GOP votes were with the Democrats, meaning that once again only the opposition to Obamacare was bipartisan. Obama and the Democrats were desperately attempting to avoid that exact outcome, as noted by the NYT:

WASHINGTON — With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats’ sweeping health care legislation, Republicans early Thursday morning identified parliamentary problems with at least two provisions that will require the measure to be sent back to the House for yet another vote, once the Senate adopts it.

Senate Democrats had been hoping to defeat all of the amendments proposed by Republicans and to prevail on parliamentary challenges so that they could approve the measure and send it to President Obama for his signature. But the bill must comply with complex budget reconciliation rules, and Republicans identified some flaws.

The key question in Washington tomorrow is whether Obama and the Democrats can get the reconciliation bill out of the Senate tomorrow and obtain the needed additional House vote to allow the completion of the Obamacare legislating before the Easter recess:

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Republicans consulting with the Senate parliamentarian had found “two minor provisions” that violate Congress’ budget rules. The provisions deal with Pell grants for low-income students.

Manley said those two provisions will be removed from the bill, and he expected the Senate to approve the measure and send it to the House. Manley said Senate leaders, after conversations with top House Democrats, expect the House to approve the revised measure.

Both chambers are hoping to begin a spring recess by this weekend.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (D-IO) stated that Senate Democrats expected the House to “quickly pass the bill with these minor changes.”

A spokeswoman for Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the provisions struck out by the parliamentarian were minor.

“The parliamentarian struck two minor provisions tonight from the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cyrul, said. “These changes do not impact the reforms to the student loan programs and the important investments in education. We are confident the House will quickly pass the bill with these minor changes.”

A third issue, in addition to the two successful GOP challenges related to the add-on student loans measure, remains in front of the Senate Parlimentarian, so more changes may end up being made. The fact that another House vote will occur at all is sure to magnify the political impact of the votes cast on the 29 GOP amendments, as now the GOP can argue that some of the reasonable changes suggested by the GOP could just have quickly been passed by the House. One such issue that is sure to draw a lot of focus is the attempt by Iowa GOP Senator Charles Grassley (R-IO) to pass an amendment which would have closed a loophole inserted by Harry Reid which excludes White House and Congressional leadership and their staffs:

An amendment that would have applied the new health care law to the president, vice president, top White House cabinet members and staffers and certain Congressional staffers failed Wednesday night, 43-56.

Three Democrats—Evah Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska—broke with their party to vote in favor of the motion to waive the point of order on the amendment.

The current law signed by President Barack Obama Tuesday applies to members of Congress and their staffs, but includes a loophole that does not require committee or leadership staffers to participate in the exchanges established by the government.

Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who spent months over the summer working on the health care legislation in committee, said in a statement following the vote that “Congressional leaders have had other opportunities to fix the double standard but have repeatedly opted not to do so.”

“It’s only fair and logical that administration leaders and congressional staff, who fought so hard to overhaul of America’s health care system, experience it themselves,” Grassley said. “If the reforms are as good as promised, then they’ll know it first-hand. If there are problems, public officials will be in a position to really understand the problems, as they should.”

Obama and the Democrats will now have to explain why they and their staffs need an exemption from Obamacare’s provisions while all other Americans do not, feeding into a narrative about how the Democratic leadership sees itself as above the law. GOP Senator David Vitter (D-LA) also got into the act by imploring the Democrats to pass his amendment, which would have exempted mobile breast cancer detection units from fuel taxes, because the “bill is already going back to the House.

Before the discovery of the parliamentary issues, Democrats had already succeeded in defeating more than two dozen Republican amendments or other proposals aimed at derailing the legislation or making changes that would delay it by forcing an additional vote in the House.

Shortly before 2:30 a.m., Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, put forward yet another amendment. Mr. Vitter’s proposal would have exempted mobile mammography units from paying a federal fuel tax.

In urging adoption of his amendment, Mr. Vitter declared, “This reconciliation bill is already going back to the House.”

The AP summarized the major GOP Obamacare amendments rejected by solely Democratic votes:

Senators voted on 29 consecutive GOP amendments between 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and 2:30 a.m. Thursday, when they recessed.

By 57-42, Democrats rejected an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., barring federal purchases of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. Coburn said it would save millions, while Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., called it “a crass political stunt.”

Democrats also deflected GOP amendments rolling back the health law’s Medicare cuts; killing extra Medicaid funds for Tennessee and other state-specific spending; barring tax increases for families earning under $250,000; and requiring the president and other administration officials to purchase health care from exchanges the statute creates.

It remains to be seen whether Pelosi will attempt to get another vote completed immediately after tomorrow’s likely passage of the altered reconciliation bill through the Senate. Considering the post-Obamacare passage polling that shows 62% of Americans, including 41% of Democrats and 66% of Independents, want the GOP to keep fighting Obama and the Democrats over Obamacare, we can expect the House GOP to use every procedural avenue at their disposal to delay the now-needed additional House vote on the Obamacare package.

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One Response to “Epic Fail: Obamacare Going Back to House, Dem Strategy Collapses with GOP Parliamentary Win”

  1. […] The errors mean that the Senate must change the bill, which then requires another House vote (via CentristNet): With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats’ […]

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