This was a vote on an amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) to the legislation making major changes in the national health care system. The Reid amendment made numerous additions and deletions to the legislation. The two most prominent were the removal of a proposed government-run insurance plan that could compete with private plans (a “public option”), and the addition of language to guarantee that federal funds are not used to pay for abortions.
Although the amendment made numerous changes in the bill, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Durbin (D-IL) said that “the basics of this bill remain.” Those “basics” included, among other things, the requirement that most Americans have health insurance, the addition of 15 million people to the HYPERLINK "http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/diseasesconditionsandhealthtopics/medicaid/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier" \o "Recent and archival health news about Medicaid." Medicaid rolls, the subsidizing of private health insurance coverage for low- and middle-income people, and the prohibition against insurance companies refusing individual coverage because of “pre-existing conditions.” The HYPERLINK "http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/congressional_budget_office/index.html?inline=nyt-org" \o "More articles about Congressional Budget Office, U.S." Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the bill would provide new insurance coverage to 31 million previously-uninsured people.
The arguments made for and against the Reid amendment were essentially the same as those made about the overall health care legislation. Sen. Durbin (D-IL), was among the leading supporters. He argued that the bill will end “the current health care system . . . (that) is unaffordable . . . and says to 50 million Americans you have no coverage, and to millions of others that you have coverage that will not be there when you need it--we have to bring that to an end. He also claimed: “(I)f you believe (health care) is a privilege for those who are wealthy . . . then you will vote against this. If you believe it is a right . . . that should be extended to more Americans . . . join us in supporting it.”
Sen. Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, was another of the leading supporters of the bill. He noted that the CBO had issued a report saying the bill “would reduce the government's fiscal role in health care (and) . . . would reduce the deficit by $132 billion in (its) first 10 years.”
Baucus also responded to claims that Republican senators had been making during the debate that the bill was developed without their input. Baucus noted: “Half a year ago, the Finance Committee conducted three bipartisan walk-throughs of the major concepts behind the bill before us today . . . a group of three Democrats and three Republicans (from the Finance Committee) met . . . for months.” He added that, although “we did not reach a formal agreement (because the Republican leadership) . . . went to great lengths to stop us . . . (T)he principles that we discussed are very much . . . the principles reflected in the bill before us today.”
Sen. Snowe (R-ME) was the only Republican member of the Finance Committee who originally voted to report the original bill to the full Senate. She had said she did so, in part, to move forward a process that she hoped would result in an acceptable bill. However, she opposed the Reid amendment and a number of other amendments that had been added, and now opposed the legislation. Among the reasons Snowe gave for her opposition were that the new taxes and fees it implemented could have “a dampening effect on job creation and job preservation.’’ She also focused her opposition on the provisions in the legislation imposing an increased Medicare payroll tax on high-income individuals and a new excise tax on high-premium insurance policies.
Sen. Alexander (R-TN) said he opposed the legislation because it would actually increase spending on health care and increase insurance premiums as well. He argued against the claim of the supporters of the bill that it would dramatically change the way health care is paid for and delivered, saying that the bill is effectively just “an expansion of the current system.”
The vote on the Reid amendment 60-39 along straight party lines. All sixty “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. All thirty-nine “nay” votes were cast by the Republicans present. As a result, the Senate added the numerous changes in the Reid amendment to the original health care legislation and moved closer to a vote on final passage of the bill.