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Congress's Secret Plan to Pass Obamacare

Written by Brian Darling

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Heritage.org

President Obama and liberals in Congress seems intent on passing comprehensive health care reform, even though polls suggest it is unpopular with the American people. And despite the potential political risks to moderate Democrats, the President and left-wing leadership in Congress are determined to pass the measure using a rare parliamentary procedure.

The Senate plans to attach Obamacare to a House-passed non-healthcare bill. Ironically, nobody knows what that legislation looks like, because it has not yet been written. Yet many members plan to rubber-stamp Obamacare without reading or understanding the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee worked furiously last week to mark up a "conceptual framework" of health care reform. The committee actually rejected an amendment by Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) to mandate that the bill text and a final cost analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) be publicly available at least 72 hours before the Finance Committee votes on final passage.

The following four-step scenario describes one way liberals plan to work the rules in their favor to get Obamacare through the Senate:

Step 1: The Senate Finance Committee must first approve the marked-up version of Sen. Max Baucus' (D.-Mont.) conceptual framework. Then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) can say that two Senate Committees have passed a health care bill, which will allow him to take extraordinary steps to get the bill on the Senate floor.

During the mark-up last week, members had difficulty offering amendments and trying to make constructive changed because they lacked actual legislative text and Baucus made unilateral last minute changes. For example, the AP reported 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."

Step 2: Sen. Reid will take the final product of the Senate Finance Committee and merge it with the product of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which passed on a party-line vote in July.

Usually, a bill is voted out of committee, and then the Senate takes up the final product of the committee so that all 100 senators can have a hand in the process. With some help from the Obama administration, Reid will decide what aspects of the HELP and Finance Committee bills to keep.

Step 3: Now, Obamacare will be ready to hitch a ride on an unrelated bill from the House. Sen. Reid will move to proceed to H.R. 1586, a bill to impose a tax on bonuses received by certain TARP recipients. This bill was passed by the House in the wake of the AIG bonus controversy and is currently sitting on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

The move to proceed needs 60 votes to start debate. After the motion is approved, Sen. Reid will offer Obamacare as a complete substitute to the unrelated House-passed bill. This means that the entire healthcare reform effort will be included as an amendment to a TARP bill that has been collecting dust in the Senate for months.

Step 4: For this strategy to work, the proponents would need to hold together the liberal caucus of 58 Democrats (including Paul Kirk who was named last Thursday to replace Sen. Kennedy), and the two Independent senators (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont). These members will have to all hold hands and vote against any filibuster. Once the Senate takes up the bill, only a simple majority of members will be needed for passage. It's possible one of the endangered moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), could vote to stop a filibuster then vote against Obamacare so as not to offend angry constituents.

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. If this plan does not work, the Senate and House leadership may go back to considering using reconciliation to pass the legislation.

Adopting this secret plan will not strike most Americans as a transparent, bipartisan, effective way to change how millions of Americans get their health care.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in Human Events

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