- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2010

President Obama on Tuesday is expected to sign into law the health care overhaul, but the battle over alterations demanded by House Democrats is just beginning in the Senate.

Republicans are preparing a series of amendments and objections to the secondary bill designed to force Democrats to take difficult political positions.

Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa said Monday he plans to introduce an amendment to require the president, Cabinet members and White House staff to buy their insurance through the government exchanges. As written, the overhaul prevents them from going to the exchanges because they get their insurance through their employer.

Senate Democrats are expected to have the 51 votes they need to pass the package of changes under reconciliation rules. So the drama will rest with the Senate parliamentarian, who will decide whether the Republicans’ objections are legitimate, and with Republicans, who will decide how long they plan to try to block the bill.

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Any change the Senate makes to the legislation would force the House to take another tough vote to pass the plan and possibly kill it.

Top Senate Democrats have said that they have asked the rank-and-file to vote against every amendment to the bill — even if they agree with them.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, was expected to introduce an amendment to establish a public insurance plan. But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that he hasn’t seen any pending Democratic amendments.

The package of changes passed the House on Sunday after the primary bill passed. It would decrease the impact of a tax on high-cost insurance plans, eliminate state-specific deals that critics say were crafted to “buy” votes and insert a new Medicare tax on wealthy Americans. Thirty-three Democrats joined all 178 Republicans in opposition.

House Democrats said Monday that they’re confident the Senate can complete the job.

“We’ve received every assurance the Senate will move forward this week,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“In the very unlikely event that it would happen to come back to the House, we will get it done. The votes are clearly there to get it done.”

The Senate will debate the bill through Thursday and then start voting on the amendments in a frenzy called “vote-o-rama.” Lawmakers stay in the Senate chamber all day working through votes on the amendments with only a few minutes to debate the merits of them or read them.

Republicans also say they plan to raise many objections to the so-called Byrd rules that restrict what kind of legislation can pass through reconciliation. For instance, they plan to argue that the bill’s tax on high-cost insurance plans would impact Social Security, which would be a violation of reconciliation rules.

Republicans said Sunday, shortly before the House voted, that they are confident the objection would hold up, but Democrats on Monday called it a phony move designed to scare House Democrats.

The parliamentarian, Alan Frumin, would decide whether the objection is legitimate. Whoever is presiding over the Senate at the time - it could be Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. - would decide whether to accept his advice. If the objection is deemed legitimate, Democrats would have to corral 60 votes to override the decision.

But all 41 Republicans have said they wouldn’t support such a move.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said Monday that he intends to vote against the reconciliation bill because it includes changes to the student-loan industry that would essentially ban private banks from issuing student loans. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, has said she plans to vote against the bill as well because she doesn’t agree with reconciliation.

• Jennifer Haberkorn can be reached at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.old.

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