Saturday, November 21, 2009

U.S. Senate Votes 60-39 To Reject Filibuster, Proceed With Debate On "Obamacare", The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act

On November 21st, 2009, the U.S. Senate voted 60-39 to cut off the possibility of a filibuster and proceed with debate on their version of Obamacare, entitled The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Senate needed exactly 60 votes to prevent filibuster, and got them. Media stories on CNN and in the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5. YouTube video of Associated Press report embedded below:



The vote proceeded along party lines. The 58 Democrats and two Independents voted in favor, while 39 of the 40 Republicans, including Utah Senators Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, voted against it. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) chose not to vote. Read the full roll call vote HERE.

Special Note: To avoid confusion, note that tonight's vote was NOT on the bill itself, but merely on whether or not to proceed with debate on the bill. The Senate did NOT pass "Obamacare" tonight. Three of the 60 Democrats who voted to proceed with debate, including Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, had earlier said they would NOT vote for the bill itself in its present form, so people still have ample time to educate their Senators on the problems with this bill. Debate is expected to take several weeks.

The title of the vote was "On the Cloture Motion (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to H.R. 3590)". What will happen is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Act is to be appended onto H.R. 3590 as an amendment. You can read the full 2,074 page text on OpenCongress.org (loads very slowly), or you can read the text on Democrats.Senate.gov (loads faster), or read it on the CNN website.

The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide subsidies to those who couldn't afford it. The fine for non-compliance would be $95 in the first year, escalating to $750 by 2016. Large companies could incur costs if they did not provide coverage to their workforce. The insurance industry would come under significant new regulation under the bill, which would first ease and then ban the practice of denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. Although the package is currently advertised as $848 billion, Congressional budget analysts put the legislation's cost as high as $979 billion over a decade and said it would reduce deficits over the same period while extending coverage to 94 percent of the eligible population.

At its core, the legislation would create insurance exchanges beginning in 2014 where individuals, most of them lower income and uninsured, would shop for coverage. The bill sets aside hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits to help those earning up to 400 percent of poverty, $88,200 for a family of four. The bill raises payroll taxes on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) eased the impact of an earlier proposal to tax high-value insurance plans, which has emerged as one of the principal methods for restraining the growth in health costs. The bill also includes tax increases on insurance companies, medical device makers, patients electing to undergo cosmetic surgery and drugmakers.

The House approved its version of the bill, then known as H.R. 3962, on November 8th on a near party line vote of 220-215, and Reid has said he wants the Senate to follow suit by year's end. Timing on any final compromise was unclear.

Orrin Hatch delivered several speeches on Saturday arguing that the bill would hurt already budget-strapped states because of a Medicaid expansion. He complained that insurance plans subsidized by the government would be able to offer abortion coverage. And finally he warned about the overall scope of a bill, which he argues is just a stepping stone toward a total government takeover of the health care industry. Read Orrin Hatch's full press release HERE.

Bob Bennett also criticized the legislation. He said that most of the benefits offered in the bill wouldn't kick in until 2014, despite Democratic insistence that a reform bill must pass soon. "The way this bill has been constructed, the status will remain quo until 2014, as far as benefits are concerned, but the taxes will start immediately," he said. Read Bob Bennett's full press release HERE.

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