Debate over health care reform legislation began Monday in the U.S. Senate, as the majority Democratic party pushes forward their domestic agenda to fundamentally reform the nation's health care and financial institutions.
The Senate debate will take place over the coming weeks, with Democrats hopeful that their proposal can be crafted and passed before the year's end. Elements of the legislation being debated include the mandating of insurance coverage for Americans, the cost of reform, and a proposed reduction of Medicare benefits to fund reform.
The debate began on a contentious note, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) suggested a procedure placing terms and requirements on any considered amendment; terms based on present Democrat proposals.
“I'm a little upset at what happened here, combining a couple of unanimous consent agreements … while leaving out the most important one, which is we wouldn't take Medicare money from Medicare,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
The move set the tone for a continued partisan process, and touched on a key issue with Republicans—the reduction of Medicare benefits to fund the proposed health care system. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made this a touchstone for his support of current Democrat proposals.
Sen. McCain also criticized Democrat claims that current reform proposals could achieve “deficit neutrality"—that of no additional funding from taxpayers—and calling it "Madoff and Enron accounting," explaining that Americans will pay for the next ten years to fund six years of benefits.
Sen. Reid disagreed. “According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would not add a penny to the federal deficit,” said Sen. Reid. “In fact it would reduce the deficit over both the short term and the long term—long term by as much as $650 billion dollars.”
Monday's session is seen by many as the beginning of a long fight split on party lines and ideological differences about the role and responsibility of the U.S. government.
Like the early November vote in the House, the Senate battle promises to be a close one, with the fate of the legislation possibly in the hands of a few moderate Democrats who presently voice reservations over draft legislation.
On Nov. 7 H.R. 3692—the Democrats' “Affordable Health Care for America Act”—narrowly passed the House by two votes: 220-215. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the legislation
If the Senate can pass its own health care reform legislation, the next step is to reconcile Senate and House proposals and merge the two bills. The House and Senate chambers would then vote on the revised bill before submission to the president.