This vote was on an amendment that would have eliminated a program aimed at increasing access to preventative health care.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would prevent an increase in the interest rate college students must pay on their loans, while eliminating a legal loophole that allows a small group of corporations to avoid paying federal payroll taxes. Sen. Alexander’s amendment would have deleted the contents of the underlying bill and replaced it with a proposal that had been endorsed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Sen. Alexander’s amendment would have kept student loan interest rates low, but rather than increase taxes on some corporations, it would have eliminated a preventative health care program that was created as part of President Obama’s health reform law.
Supporters of Sen. Alexander’s amendment argued that it would be the quickest way to pass legislation protecting students from a hike in interest rates. They argued that cutting spending was a better approach than raising taxes on businesses.
“Our friends on the other side have their usual solution to almost any problem: Let's put some more taxes on small-business men and women in America during a time of the greatest recession we have had. We have a better idea for how to pay for this bill,” Sen. Alexander said. “We will not tax the small-businesspeople. We will have a little left over, and we will reduce the debt. Then we can send our bill to the House, they will pass it like that, send it to the President, and the problem is solved.”
Opponents of Sen. Alexander’s amendment argued that it would damage efforts to lower health care costs and improve access to critically needed care. They noted that closing the tax loophole would not affect anyone who made less than $200,000 per year.
“We can either vote to close a tax loophole that allows wealthy tax dodgers not to pay their fair share of taxes … or, as the Republicans want to do, totally eliminate the Wellness and Prevention Fund and end the money that we are putting into diabetes prevention and breast cancer and colorectal screening,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said. “I do not think the choice could be more clear to the American people about the direction we ought to go. Close the tax loophole. Keep the prevention fund in there. Keep our people healthy.”
Sen. Alexander’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 34-62. Voting “yea” were 34 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 52 Democrats and 10 Republicans. One Republican voted “present.” As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to eliminate a program aimed at increasing access to preventative health care.