Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Senate Live - May 10, 2006

All S.1955, all day.

The general thrust and parry will be in the contents of amendments, or even which amendments are permitted to be taken up for consideration. The Lincoln-Durbin option is the primary opposition to S.1955 as presently crafted. There is also a desire to bring up prescription drug reimportation, which Senator DORGAN intends to offer after a couple years of being unable to get legislation considered. Embryonic stem cell research is another, and a third raised by DORGAN yesterday is "repeal the law that prevents negotiation of lower prices with the pharmaceutical industry."

If there is, in fact, an amendable vehicle--and I hope it will be; we will know that tomorrow morning--then I have just described three amendments that I believe should be offered, and when offered I believe will be approved in the coming days. If not, if this is a charade, and tomorrow we discover there is a legislative approach called ``filling the tree,'' which is simply setting up a little blocking device to say we are not going to allow anybody to offer anything, then I think the Senate will have sent a very strong message that this isn't Health Week. This is a week in which you want to trot out a little proposal of your own and avoid votes on serious issues that we should be taking in the Senate.

We'll know in a few hours, which way the debate will go. I predict that stem cell, reimportation, and the "repeal" issue will NOT be permitted as amendments. This bill is about insurance - and the battle will be between S.1955 as drafted, and a "bigger government still" version, under the Lincoln-Durbin label.

Looking ahead, Senator Frist notes that after activity on S.1955 is complete, the Senate will take up the Tax Relief Act (mentioned May 1 under 5. SCHEDULE), which has a 10 hour debate limit before voting. I find it interesting that the Senate has a statutory time limit for debate on that measure. Frist also mentioned this act, H.R.4297, on May 4.

A bit of news while the Senate is in a quorum call: a new Circuit Court vacancy - Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th Circuit has resigned.

And more news on the judicial nomination front, howappealing reports that Neil Gorsuch will be nominated to the 10th Circuit. He seems to be an excellent choice, if comments at this article at confirmthem.com are indicative.

The Senate has been in quorum call, mostly, and now returns to Morning Business until 2:00 PM, when Senator Frist will speak. Senator Kennedy is up, noting that the likely outcome of negotiations on S.1955 will be an unamendable bill (amendment tree filled, Lincoln-Durbin can't be debated, nor can the other items on the DEM wishlist) that will be dropped from consideration. Similar happened with the asbestos bill, where cloture was offered, the cloture vote failed, and that was that.

Senator Frist has pushed the announcement back to 2:30. Senator Kennedy takes the opportunity to list what won't be handled: extending Medicare drug signup date, stem cell research, etc. Kennedy note that he would have offered an amendment to let states opt-out of S.1955. I think this would effectively gut a federal takeover of health insurance regulation as it pertains to small businesses, but have to admit I don't know the current regulations or proposed changes (what does S.1955 do?) in enough detail to make and defend any particular point of view on the amendment that won't see the light of day.

Senator Frist provides a series of amendments to S.1955: S.Amdt. 3886, S.Amdt. 3887, S.Amdt. 3888, S.Amdt. 3889, and S.Amdt. 3890.

Of these, S.Amdt. 3886 and S.Amdt. 3888 will be roll call voted. The former is in the nature of a substitute.

Senator Frist notes that amendments such as stem cell should be debated separately, and S.1955 is about small business health plans, not about stem cell and not about all health care issues that confront the country.

Senator Frist closed down the Senate. Filed a cloture motion to vote some varient of S.1955 up or down, but that won't be taken up until AFTER the Senate takes up H.R.4297. So much for health week.

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