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Passing a Shell of A Bill: Congress’ Secret Plan to Ram Through Health Care Reform

Written by The Heritage Foundation

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With the President and Congress's plan to pass comprehensive health care reform reaching increasingly high levels of unpopularity, and reconciliation becoming an impediment, the leadership of the Senate is rumored to be preparing a new secret plan to railroad the bill through the Senate in record time by using a seldom used parliamentary procedure.

Their plan is to proceed to a House passed non-health care bill to provide a shell of legislation to give Obamacare a ride to the House then to the President's desk.  Sound confusing? We lay out the steps below, but essentially the Senate would pass health care reform as an amendment to a completely unrelated bill so the Senate and House could act quickly and without further debate. Even worse? Nobody really knows what that legislation looks like but they plan on voting for it anyway.

Right now, the Senate Finance Committee is in the midst of marking up health care reform "legislation." Due to Senate procedure, what they are actually marking up is a 200+ page conceptual framework of the actual legislation, not a real bill. That means that not only has no Senator even read the bill but, there is a high probability that the bill hasn't even been written yet. If the Committee sticks to their artificial deadline of completing work by this Friday then they would have passed a conceptual document reforming the nation's health care system, spending trillions, without ever seeing an estimated 1,500 pages of legislation, which may or may not be written.

The current plan is to start debate on Obamacare as early as next week under the following four-step scenario:

STEP ONE:  The Senate Finance Committee will finish work on the marking up of Senator Max Baucus' (D-MT) conceptual framework for legislation by this Friday. Baucus has not unveiled final legislation and, according to the Associated Press, he added some new language to the mark up today. AP reports that "under pressure from fellow Democrats, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee decided to commit an additional $50 billion over a decade toward making insurance more affordable for working class families." 

Senators have not been provided any real legislation and are offering amendments this week to Baucus' 200+ page outline. It is expected that at the end of the process the Senate Finance Committee may produce a bill longer than the 1,000 page House bill that proved so controversial over the August recess. Many Senators are upset that they don't have final language for a bill, yet still they sit in a Committee Hearing Room this week marking up a draft document that is not in the form of legislative language. The plan is to have this document voted out of the Senate Finance Committee by Friday.

STEP TWO:  Next, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will take the final product of the Senate Finance Committee and merge it with the product of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee.  This was the late Senator Kennedy's (D-MA) bill, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), which passed the HELP Committee on July 15, 2009 on a party line vote.  Remember, most Senators will still not know what they voted for in the Finance Committee.

STEP THREE:  Senator Reid will then move to proceed to H.R. 1586, a bill to impose a tax on bonuses received by certain TARP recipients. This bill was the bill passed by the House in the wake of the AIG bonus controversy and is currently sitting on the Senate Legislative Calendar. Reid will move to proceed, and he will need 60 votes to act on this bill.  After the motion is approved, he will then offer a complete substitute bill purportedly including the combined Senate HELP and Finance Committee products.  This means that the entire health care reform effort will be included as an amendment to a TARP bill that has been collecting dust in the Senate for months.

STEP FOUR:  For this strategy to work, the proponents would need to hold together the liberal caucus of 57 Democrats, 2 Independents (Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont), and a potential new member replacing the late Senator Kennedy. This scenario would most likely be implemented after the Massachusetts state legislature gives Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint a new Senator and that Senator is seated by the Senate. According to CQ, the state legislature may pass a bill and present it to Governor Patrick by next week.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, all the House would have to do is pass the bill, without changes, and President Obama will be presented with his health care reform measure thereby transforming within a few weeks 1/6th of the US economy. If this plan does not work, the Senate and House Leadership may consider using reconciliation to pass the legislation. For a more detailed explanation of the reconciliation scenario, please see the Heritage Foundation's Fact Sheet on Reconciliation here or a handy guide on Reconciliation published in Human Events earlier today.

Does this sound like a transparent, bipartisan and effective way to change the way millions of Americans get their health care? Of course not.

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The Heritage Foundation 

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