Yes, you read the headline right: Senate Democrats are so concerned about maintaining the exact language of the House reconciliation package for Obamacare that, as reported by Sam Stein of Huffpo, that Senate Dems will vote in lockstep against GOP Senator Tom Coburn’s amendment to ban the funding of viagra for sex offenders:
Democrats in the Senate say they are so committed to passing the House’s version of health care reconciliation fixes verbatim, that they are willing to vote against even the most alluring and unobjectionable of amendments — from legislation banning Viagra for sex offenders to language adding the long-elusive public option.
In what is the final act of the health care reform saga, the Senate on Tuesday began debating reconciliation fixes that the House of Representatives passed two days prior. The process includes a period of what could be unlimited amendments, during which it is widely expected that Republicans will try their best to get the legislation changed.
The idea is that by securing even a slight adjustment in the language, the Senate will have to send the bill back to the House of Representatives for reconsideration. Drawing out the process makes it more likely for it to be tripped up.
On Tuesday, the GOP put its strategy into action, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl.) introducing an amendment beyond agreeable. Titled “No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs To Sex Offenders” it would literally prohibit convicted child molesters, rapists, and sex offenders from getting erectile dysfunction medication from their health care providers.
While it will undoubtedly be difficult for Democrats to vote against the measure (one can conjure up the campaign ads already), the party plans to do just that.
“Democrats in the Senate are very unified that this is not going back to the House,” Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) told the Huffington Post on Tuesday, minutes before the Coburn amendment was introduced.
The coming votes in the Senate on the GOP’s many amendments, including the attempt to ban the provision of viagra to sex offenders, are sure to provide some entertaining political theater and perhaps form the basis for a campaign ad or two against Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2010.
The president said that he believes there are areas where they are finding agreement, but did not out right answer a reporter’s question if he believes the first half of the summit had made progress yet.
“”I think we’re establishing that there are actually some areas of real agreement. And we’re starting to focus on what the real disagreements are,” Obama said, “ If you look at you know the issue of how much government should be involved, you know the argument that republicans are making really isn’t that this is a government takeover of health care but rather than, we’re insuring or we’re regulating the insurance market too much.”
The president called this a “legitimate philosophical disagreement” that he hopes to explore more in the afternoon sessions.
As noted earlier, a minor dust up over equal time between Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky) and President Obama culminated in an Obama quip that his time doesn’t count towards the equal division between the parties “because I’m the President.” Vice President Joe Biden interrupted Obama mid-sentence at one point to contradict the President and House Member Eric Cantor (R-Va) and argued that no serious philosophical difference existed between the parties over federal insurance regulation. GOP Senator John McCain (R-Az) got in a few rhetorical shots at the odious process around Obamacare to date, pointing out a few of the backroom deals between special interest groups and the President as well as deals with individual Democratic Senators. Obama reacted testily and scolded McCain, at one point advising the Senator that “the campaign is over” in reference to Obama’s victory over 2008 GOP Presidential nominee. An early dispute between Obama and Alexander over whether Obamacare would cause premiums to rise appeared to be a draw, with both sides making arguably accurate arguments based on the same data.
Obama also introduced two new talking points during the first half: analogies of health insurance to car insurance and health insurance regulation to the government’s regulation of food safety.
Finally, before the meeting began, Obama gave a cryptic response to a reporter’s shouted question, do you have a “Plan B”, which may have been in reference to the WSJ story last night which claimed the White House is preparing a scaled down, approximately 250 Billion Dollar plan (as opposed to the 950 Billion of the present Obama Health Plan). The AP reports the exchange:
A month after the Massachusetts election that cost Democrats their Senate supermajority and threw the health legislation in doubt, the White House has developed its own slimmed-down health care proposal so the president will know what the impact would be if he chooses that route, according to a Democratic official familiar with the discussions. That official could not provide details, but Democrats have looked at approaches including expanding Medicaid and allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until around age 26.
The slimmer backup plan was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Obama himself hinted at a Democrats-only strategy. When asked by reporters as he walked to Blair House if he had a Plan B, he responded: “I’ve always got plans.”
The Politico is also reporting that Obama intends to abandon all bipartisan negotiations on Monday of next week, so it may be that the WSJ was false and Obama intends to attempt to push his comprehensive plan through the Senate via reconciliation after the summit.
As expected with incumbent Senator Evan Bayh’s surprise announcement this week that he will not seek reelection, Indiana’s U.S. Senate race is wide open. The three leading Republican contenders all post leads for now over the two most prominently mentioned Democratic hopefuls, but it’s not even clear if those Democrats are in the race.
A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Indiana voters shows former GOP Congressman John Hostettler leading Baron Hill 49% to 31% and Brad Ellsworth 46% to 27%.
Former Senator Dan Coats, whose entry in the race has the blessing of the GOP establishment but has angered some Indiana Republicans, runs ahead of Hill 48% to 32% and ahead of Ellsworth 46% to 32%.
As Indiana Democratic leaders scramble to replace Evan Bayh in the US Senate race, one name is emerging from left field: rock musician John Mellencamp.
When questioned Wednesday, Mellencamp publicist Bob Merlis responded to the Monitor via e-mail this way: “As of now, there is no response.” The lack of an answer — which was the same given to the Indianapolis Star Wednesday — is helping the Internet rumor mill churn even faster.
Grassroots efforts are urging Mr. Mellencamp to take the leap. On MSNBC Tuesday, Katrina Van Heuvel, editor of The Nation, suggested that Mellencamp could be a “populist candidate” as someone “who worked very hard for farmers who faced foreclosures” and “a Heartland son of Indiana.”
On the Republican side, the battle between John Hostettler and Dan Coats should make for interesting political theater for the next few months in the run-up to the GOP Senate primary in May 2010. Of course, there will be no Democrat Senate primary, as no candidates qualified for the ballot, so the Hostettler-Coats race will garner higher interest from the public both before the primary and on primary day with possible crossover voters in what amounts to an essentially open primary process. Barring a wholesale shift in the national political environment, the May 2010 GOP Senate primary appears to be the key race this year in Indiana as whether Hostettler or Coats emerge victorious, in the post-Bayh environment the likelihood of a GOP Senate pickup in Indiana is very high.
Because no Democratic candidate filed the necessary signatures to qualify for the primary ballot, the 32-member Democratic state central committee will select the party’s candidate — although they cannot do so until after the scheduled May 4 primary. It’s also not clear whether any other Democrat will compete with Ellsworth for the Senate nomination; Rep. Baron Hill has expressed interest in a statewide race in the past.