Health Care by Christmas Eve?

Republicans continued to play hardball in their procedural battle against the Democrats’ planned vote on the government takeover of America’s health care system by Christmas Eve.

In a special midnight session of the Senate, Democrats got the 60 votes (63-33) needed to invoke cloture on the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, a bill that is solely intended to fund the DOD and our troops.  The bill was packed with extras that included temporary “doctor fix” payments intended to fill in the gap of doctors underpaid by the Medicare system.  The measure also included extensions in unemployment compensation.

That vote for cloture means the clock started ticking for the 30 hours post-cloture debate. Democrats can now call for the vote on final passage of the DOD Appropriations bill at 7:30 am Saturday, then pivot back to the health care debate.  

There was some question early this morning as to whether or not Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) would vote to fund the troops which would leave the Democrats one shy of their 60-vote cloture and cause serious delay to their drive toward a vote to pass the health care bill two out of three Americans now firmly oppose.  Once Lautenberg’s vote fell in support of cloture, Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas also voted in favor of cloture.

This vote was crucial to Democrats determined to get their health care measure back to the Senate floor.

The Congressional Budget Office score is not yet completed for this health care bill still being written behind closed doors but could be released as early as today.  Some of the sticking points in the new bill (in the form of a Manager’s Amendment) have yet to be ironed out, causing more delays in the CBO score.  

The latest objections are from Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who claims to be strongly pro-life.  Nelson is objecting to language in the bill that allows federal funding of abortion with taxpayer dollars. If he stick to his guns, the bill could raise enough red flags in the House to cause it to go to conference in the House where changes would be have to be made.

What the Senate Democrat leadership is likely promising everyone now is that the problems with Senate bill will be fixed in conference with the House after it is passed. That is highly unlikely. Should the current bill without the abortion funding ban pass the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is likely to send the bill straight to the President’s desk for signature without changes, without conference, and without any more votes being required.

Should Nelson stand firm, he’ll likely not be standing alone.  More than one Democrat senator is looking for a reason not to vote for this politically radioactive bill — they’re all just looking for someone to go first and stand firm in their objection.  The radical left pro-choice House leadership will likely disagree with any language barring taxpayer funding of abortion and revolt.

The entire nation would be grateful to Nelson if he’s the one who kills the bill: on the far left and in mainstream America.

If Nelson caves, the rest of the schedule is not smooth sailing for a vote by Christmas Eve.

Reading Every Single Page

The major hurdle is the announcement by Republicans that they will insist the entire bill is read on the Senate floor.  The rule in the Senate states that every bill and every amendment must be read.  The reading can be waived by unanimous consent.  So it merely takes one senator to object and the bill must be read.

The Democrats broke the rules earlier this week when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) insisted on the reading of a 767-page amendment.  The Democrats interrupted the reading and the amendment sponsor pulled the amendment, which is against the Senate rules.  So much for centuries of Senate rules and traditions.

The Senate clerk can read about three-quarters of a page of a bill in about an minute.  If you round that number up allowing for a best-case scenario, under the best of conditions a clerk can read about a page an hour, and 600 pages would take approximately 10 hours.  The current bill is expected to be in excess of 2,100 pages which would blow the Christmas Eve vote.

One way to cut the length of the bill is to begin inserting entire sections of the House-passed health care bill and merely referencing them by page number in the reading.  Remember, none of H.R. 3962, the health care bill passed by the House, is included in the Senate bill.  The shell bill being considered at this time is a military, first time homebuyers tax relief bill that has been gutted and substituted in full by an amendment from Reid.

Hang with me here for a moment, because we’re going to walk through the likely end game scenario of voting, should Reid file for cloture by no later than noon on Saturday after the 7:30 am vote on final passage for DOD Appropriations bill.

The Senate would move back to health care after that 7:30 am vote Saturday morning, December 19th.  Reid would have until about then to continue to tweak his Manager’s Amendment with changes to garner votes and get a CBO score.  He would then file three separate cloture motions to start running the clock on the one calendar day required between filing the cloture motion and a cloture vote.

The three motions would be on his Manager’s Amendment, which is in all actuality the new bill that would be read aloud, the bill that encompasses all of the tweaks and changes that will have been used to garner the final votes.

The second would be cloture on his substitute amendment.  Without getting too far into the weeds here, H.R. 3590, the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009 is the shell bill that was gutted and replaced by a substitute amendment.  Every debate and amendment thus far on health care has been an amendment to that substitute amendment replacing the H.R. 3590 military tax bill.  So the substitute amendment will also require a cloture vote.

Still with me?

The third simultaneous cloture filing would be on the final passage of the actual shell bill (H.R. 3590, the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009) with all of these amendments and substitutes.

These three cloture votes with the subsequent 30 hours of post-cloture debate (each) then a simple majority vote on final passage must be scheduled for the government takeover of health care to pass the Senate.

The first cloture vote ripens Monday morning after midnight, which is when the first cloture vote on the Managers’ Amendment could take place.  Then 30 hours later, which is Tuesday 7:30 am, the final vote to adopt that amendment could take place.  That would require a simple majority.

Then the substitute amendment could be called up for cloture vote, and the same scenario would play out with 30 hours of post-cloture debate and vote for passage.  Then the same for final passage of the bill, which would put that vote into Christmas Eve.

This scenario would only work if they can get the bill to around 600 pages to curtail the reading time.  Otherwise, they would have to come up with another way to force Alan Frumin, the Senate Parliamentarian, to again outright break the Senate rules to force the reading of the bill to come to an end.

A 2,100 page bill, best case scenario, would still take over 30 hours to read, which blows the timeline.

Using every opportunity to slow down the rush to pass the Democrats’ health care boondoggle, Senate Republicans earlier Thursday evening denied unanimous consent to adjourn so there was a roll call vote on the motion to recess. The motion was agreed to 59-38.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) was not present for the vote to recess, meaning the Democrats had to haul the 92-year-old Senator in to vote in the midnight session.  Byrd is absent more than he is present these days.

Some Senate sources speculate there is a mini-Bethesda naval hospital set up in Byrd’s office complete with hospital bed and intravenous drips that would allow the ailing senator to be easily wheeled onto the Senate floor for some of the more crucial votes — whether Byrd actually knows where he is or what he’s voting on or not.