On Saturday, the motion to proceed to debate on the Senate's health care reform bill passed on a 60-39 vote. Next, amendments will be offered and voted on, then the Senate must vote to end the debate, which will also require 60 votes. Although this was the first step in the bill's approval process, studies show that 97 percent of bills become law after this type of vote passes. This is far from a foregone conclusion, as many of my colleagues who voted 'yes' on Saturday have already expressed concern over this bill.
While everyone agrees there are some positive things included in this legislation, Senators on both sides of the aisle are concerned that a number of provisions could make their final vote very difficult. These provisions include the government-run plan and increased health care spending. Over the next few weeks, the Senate will debate these issues and try to change the bill to satisfy their concerns. There are some fundamental realities about the bill that won't change unless it's virtually rewritten; this bill will lead to higher premiums, increased taxes, and cuts to Medicare. Anyone who is pro-life will be disappointed to hear that the door is now open to overturn a three-decade precedent banning federal funding of abortion. This was made possible after no pro-life Democrat took a stand to continue the ban before the bill moved to the floor. Because there are not 60 pro-life Senators who now would vote to continue it, there is little hope of a truly pro-life provision in the final bill.
Is that true reform? I don't think so. Majority Leader Reid touts the bill's price tag at $848 billion, and says it will lower the deficit by more than $100 billion. This is not the full picture. This cost is for the first 10 years of legislation, yet the first four years would be spent establishing the government-run program and putting infrastructure into place. So while you'd be paying 10 years of taxes and penalties, you'd only see 6 years of benefits. It's essentially a government layaway plan. The true ten-year cost for when the bill is fully implemented is $2.5 trillion.
Many have argued there needs to be a government-run plan to help lower premium costs and provide competition. However, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has stated that the government-run plan included in the Senate bill would have "premiums that were somewhat higher than the average premiums" compared to today's private insurance. Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that all health care premiums will rise due to more mandates, restrictions, and taxes placed on insurance companies and employers. If costs are not lowered, I don't know how Senators can justify a "yes" vote in the future.
With the current political climate and a 60-vote requirement, it will be tremendously difficult to make enough improvements to the bill to make it acceptable. Even so, I will continue doing all I can to protect the interests and tax dollars of our state.