Democrats Fight Off First Round of GOP Amendments

Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:12pm

After more than three hours of the health care reconciliation “vote-a-rama,” Senate Democrats were holding strong against a slew of GOP amendments, but Republicans continued to dangle the possibility of scoring a victory that would send the bill back to the House for a revote.

By 8:45 p.m., Democrats had defeated, or tabled, 10 GOP attempts to amend the bill, including a politically problematic amendment that would have barred insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. Democrats have been attempting to defeat all amendments in an effort to clear the health care “fixer” package for the president’s signature and put an end to the health care reform debate.

One Senate Democratic aide said Republicans would not be able to offer any potentially damaging points of order until after the chamber deals with another 11 pending GOP proposals.

Republicans, who have seen no party defections, have been picking up a few Democratic votes here and there, with Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) voting most often against the majority of their party. Other Democratic defectors have included Sens. Jim Webb (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.).

Notably, Nelson and Bayh voted with all Republicans against a Democratic motion to table the erectile dysfunction drug amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The vote was 57-42 to table the amendment. Democrats fear votes against proposals like Coburn’s could be turned into an effective campaign attack ad come November.

Additionally, Lincoln, Nelson and McCaskill voted with Republicans to kill a series of “sweetheart deals” in the reconciliation bill and the new health care reform law for several states, including the GOP-dubbed “Louisiana Purchase,” which would increase Medicaid funding for that state. The vote was 54-43 to table the amendment.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are attempting to challenge multiple provisions of the reconciliation package on the grounds that they violate the strict budget reconciliation rules. Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin had yet to issue rulings, but Republican aides expressed confidence that at least one of the budget points of order they have raised would stand.

Should Frumin rule on the Republicans’ behalf on just one budget point of order, the challenged provision would be stricken from the reconciliation package and the House would have to revote on it. Democrats do not have the 60 votes needed to keep provisions from being stricken. It was unclear when Frumin planned to rule on the GOP challenges.

Indeed, one Senate Democratic aide said there was a worry among leaders that Republicans were seeking to take advantage of the Democrats’ strategy of opposing all amendments by letting Democrats take tough votes against amendments they may actually support before revealing any game-changing budget points of order.

But there was some doubt whether Republicans were really holding onto any surprise procedural hurdles.

“They did a pretty good job of scrubbing the reconciliation bill,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Wednesday afternoon of Democratic efforts to strip the bill of any provisions that would violate budget rules.

Burr added, “I think what you’re going to see is we’re going to focus on legitimate amendments to improve or repair flaws in the bill. … I would imagine you’re going to see points of order, but no one knows exactly how [the Parliamentarian] is going to rule on those. Is there some overarching point of order that I think throws us into chaos? No.”