Live-blog: The health care debate

The Senate is taking up the health care bill today. The session will last longer than my ability to follow it for the duration, but I’ll be following it nonetheless.

What’s going on behind the debate? The Wall St. Journal has interesting analysis:

What’s happening on the floor may not bear much resemblance to the ideas being discussed privately, and the bill could take a sudden shift if the private ideas become part of Reid’s official plan. Case in point: On Feb. 6, the Senate spent most of the day debating a $930 billion stimulus package. But that night, Senate Democratic leaders reached a deal with three Republicans on a leaner package that ultimately was valued at $787 billion. That’s the one that passed the Senate.

So the floor session today may be being held primarily for the benefit of The Daily Show?

1:56 p.m. – Sen. John Kyl says Republicans will try to amend the bill, otherwise they’ll vote against it.

2:00 p.m. – The Senate is still working on morning business. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Minn.) is making a statement on three Americans — including a Minnesotan — being held in Iran.

2:05 p.m. – Debate has begun. Sen. Harry Reid speaking. In the typical style of Congress, the description of HR 3590 gives no indication of what’s actually in the bill:

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the first-time homebuyers credit in the case of members of the Armed Forces and certain other Federal employees, and for other purposes.

Here’s the full text of the bill. Don’t try to print it.

It’s always hard to tell on CSPAN, but it appears few senators are in the Senate chamber at the moment.

2:14 p.m. – Reid says “each and every American has had the opportunity” to read the bill online. He then offers an amendment to require amendments to be available on the senator’s Web site before it is considered. It’s worth pointing out that, at least in comparison to the Minnesota House and Senate Web sites, the congressional Web sites are a joke when it comes to following legislation as it’s offered and debate.

2:19 p.m. – A CSPAN wide shot reveals an empty chamber. We’re not likely to get any interesting debate anytime soon.

2:20 p.m. – One of Reid’s amendments would have prevented money set aside from Social Security from being used for anything but Social Security. Sen. Mike Enzi says the one program that needed to be protected from siphoning funds wasn’t in the amendment — Medicare.

2:24 p.m. – The Congressional Budget Office today released a report on what will happen to health insurance premiums if the health care bill passes. Here’s the full report. Premiums on non-group policies would increase by an average of 10 percent to 13 percent before figuring in the federal subsidies that are designed to defray the cost, the report said. Once the government aid is included in the calculations, average premiums would be as much as 59 percent lower than is now the case.

2:26 p.m. – Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD: “Simply being a woman is a pre-existing condition.” She’s offering an amendment requiring access to screening by eliminating copays and deductibles. “Women will have access to the same preventive health services as women in Congress have,” she said. She cited mammograms, screening for cervical cancer, and diabetes checks. She said the current bill does not provide for these preventive services.

2:34 p.m.Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., says 80 percent of the health care decisions in families are made by women. “Women themselves are often discriminated against,” he says.

Baucus says every 30 seconds, another American files for medical bankruptcy. FACT CHECK: Not likely true, at least as far as a medical reason. The number is actually for total personal bankruptcies. It was much higher in 2005.

Baucus wrote the Senate version of the health care reform legislation. He’s describing the highlights of the package. He says the bill prevents insurance companies from raising rates for an entire small business just because one employee got sick. He says the legislation repeals the “hidden cost” of treating the uninsured in hospital emergency rooms. He pegs the cost at $1,000 per year per family.

Tangent time: Six hospitals sue Massachusetts over that state’s universal health care law. They say the state is shortchanging them for treating patients with public insurance.

2:54 p.m.Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, leads the opposition. Calls the Democrats’ amendments “a stunt.” I should point out that none of the amendments have been posted on the Democratic Senate sponsors’ Web sites.

3:03 p.m. – Enzi says nobody will see any benefit from the bill until 2014. “The Reid bill mandates that Washington bureaucrats ration care,” he said. Mikulski admitted as much, he suggested, by offering an amendment that clearly was a response to the government’s medical panel that recommended women not have mammograms as part of routine screening until age 50.

3:10 p.m. – Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Ct., invokes Ted Kennedy. “The idea that this is being jammed down peoples’ throats… is not born out by the facts.”

Tangent time: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Senate Health Bill (NPR)

3:21 p.m. – Dodd relays tale of a youngster in Connecticut who needed a medical device but couldn’t get it. “That won’t happen under our bill,” he shouts. “Millions of Americans go to bed knowing that if they wake up sick, they might not be able to get care.”

3:42 p.m. – Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Says the health care plan as a “revenue neutral” bill requires 10 years of taxes for 6 years of program.

3:46 p.m. – We have the first chart of the debate: Grassley’s graph of the federal debt. Grassley says the CBO report — referenced above — “confirms our worst fears.” He points out the part that says premiums will go up, but he leaves out the part about premium subsidies from the government.

Grassley says the government shouldn’t force people to buy insurance. “Never in the 200-plus years of our country has the government forced you to buy anything,” he said. He also called for medical malpractice reform, and a denial of benefits to undocumented workers.

Tangent time: Illegal immigrants becoming a flashpoint in health care reform (Christian Science Monitor)

4:05 p.m. – Sen. John McCain, R-AZ., says Democrats are asking “us to commit to cuts that are unspecificed.” He says hospice care funding is also being cut under Medicare. He calls on Democrats to explain how “half a trillion” in cuts can be implemented without removing programs under Medicare.

“Seniors all over America… are outraged and the more they find out about it the more angry they’ve become,” Sen. McCain said.

4:11 p.m. – McCain cites this story via the Associated Press:

President Barack Obama’s top aides met frequently with lobbyists and health care industry heavyweights as his administration pieced together a national health care overhaul, according to White House visitor records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The records disclose visits by a broad cross-section of the people most involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily toward those who want to overhaul the system.

“Health care reform should’ve been about both sides sitting down and fixing what’s broken,” McCain said. “Somewhere we’ve lost sight of what’s wrong with health care in America and that’s the cost of health care in America.”

McCain says when the bill is signed, “immediately programs start being cut… and you don’t get any benefits of the program for three years.”

4:34 p.m. McCain: “I don’t think the American people want their health care decisions coming from a panel in Washington.” He’s pushing the impact on senior citizens hard.

4:42 p.m. – Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA., is up. He says Medicare will go broke in 8 years “if we don’t take action.” He asks why the GOP hasn’t proposed its own health care reform bill.

The debate continues. Not a lot of new content is being provided, so I’ll discontinue the live blog for now.

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