The Senate’s health care bill became law earlier this week, but that does not mean the fight against a government overhaul of our nation’s health system is over. This week, the Senate will consider amendments to the reconciliation bill passed by the House alongside the Senate health bill, H.R. 3590. This process will provide a chance to ameliorate the numerous shortcomings of the passed legislation, and will provide Americans with a glimpse at the true intentions of their elected officials as they are forced to take a stance on difficult questions regarding changes to the bill. Here, we outline some of the amendments put forth and the Senate’s verdict:
Protecting Medicare Savings. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) offered an amendment to protect new savings from Medicare from being used to fund new entitlements. The passed legislation and the reconciliation package would create a combined $529 billion in cuts to Medicare spending over ten years. Lawmakers claim these cuts will be applied to increase the program’s solvency, which will otherwise cause $38 trillion in unfunded liabilities to the taxpayers. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case: proponents of the bill tried to have it both ways by double counting savings from Medicare, but according to the Congressional Budget Office, “…the savings to the HI trust fund under the PPACA would be received by the government only once, so they cannot be set aside to pay for future Medicare spending and, at the same time, pay for current spending on other parts of the legislation or on other programs.” Sen. Gregg’s amendment would have ensured prolonged fiscal sustainability of Medicare; however, the Senate voted to table the amendment with a vote of 56-42.
Getting Rid of Special Deals. When President Obama took office, he promised to introduce transparency to the legislative process. Instead, the White House and congressional leadership resorted to backroom deals and shady tactics to pass the monumentally unpopular health care bill. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment that would remove all the sweetheart deals added to lure needed votes for the bill. These include, but are not limited to, increases in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital payments for Tennessee and Hawaii, the “Louisiana Purchase”, Medicare coverage for Libby, Montana residents exposed to environmental hazards, and $100 million for hospitals in Connecticut. Sen. McCain’s amendment was tabled with a vote of 54-43, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for these special deals used to pass legislation they didn’t like in the first place.
Removing Taxes on the Middle Class. Another of the President’s campaign promises was that he would not increase taxes on individuals making under $200,000 or families making $250,000. But the health bill the President signed this week carries with it a handful of new taxes that would affect all Americans, regardless of income, including a penalty for failure to purchase a government-approved health plan, taxes on high-cost insurance plans, and taxes on medical necessities such as prescription drugs and medical devices. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) offered a motion to commit the health bill to the Finance committee to ensure that it met the President’s promise not to increase taxes on the middle class. The Senate voted to table this amendment with a vote of 56-43.
Protecting Jobs and the Economy. The health bill includes an employer mandate that will punish employers for failing to offer insurance to their workers. The unintended consequences of this provision will be multitudinous: it will encourage employers to avoid hiring low-income workers, it will encourage employers who must hire a high proportion of low-income workers to drop the coverage they currently offer, and it will result in loss of jobs and lower wages. To combat this, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) offered a motion to commit the bill to the Finance Committee to strike the employer mandate and replace it with other offsets. The Senate voted 58-41 to table this amendment.
Preventing Premium Increases. Our nation’s health care system faces out-of-control growth in health spending, and will continue to do so after enactment of the liberals’ health care package. The bill does nothing to bend the cost curve, instead increasing total national health expenditures. Moreover, provisions in the bill such as federally-mandated benefits and the combination of guaranteed access to insurance with an individual mandate that is significantly less expensive than a health plan, will cause premiums to rise. CBO has found that H.R.3590 would increase premiums in the individual market by as much as 13 percent, and the effects expected by our analysts are even more severe. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) offered an amendment requiring that no provisions in the bill would result in premium increases—this amendment was tabled with a vote of 57-41.
Subjecting Lawmakers to Obamacare. The President has indicated that the care Americans will receive under his health care package will rival the popular Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) through which members of Congress and other federal employees purchase insurance. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment which would force proponents of the package to put this claim to the test by requiring that the President and all members of Congress and their staff receive health care through the newly-created exchanges rather than through the FEHBP. Was the Senate willing to take the plunge? It appears not—the amendment failed by a vote of 56-43.