Saturday, May 06, 2006

Senate Live - May 8, 2006

Getting a bit of a jump by starting this post on Saturday. Monday will be quiet. I have no prediction as to the cloture motion vote results, I figure cloture could fail on all three, which will have the DEMs being painted as obstructionist on health care reform.

11 . HEALTH INSURANCE MARKETPLACE MODERNIZATION AND AFFORDABILITY ACT OF 2006

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that on Monday, May 8, the time for debate be divided as follows: 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m, minority control; and 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., majority control. Further, that the time rotate under this format, with the final time from 5 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. under majority control. Finally, I ask unanimous consent that the three live quorums related to the cloture motions be waived. ...

... At 5:15 on Monday, we will have two cloture votes on motions to proceed to a comprehensive medical malpractice bill and a tailored bill designed to give women access to health care.

Senator Reid is putting me to sleep. His argument is that the high cost of health care is caused by insurance companies, that most malpractice claims meritorious, and by implication, the damage awards are appropriate. He again suggests that removing the health care insurance exemption from anti-trust laws will reduce the cost of health care.

Does anybody buy this argument? With regard to the Senate process, Senator Reid indicates he will vote against cloture.

Senator Nelson of Florida noting that this is "Health Week in the Senate," wonders, rhetorically, why leadership hasn't included plans to discuss the sign-up for the Medicare drug payment program. He wants to extend the sign-up deadline and provide other protection for the enrollees - he thinks the burden is on the government to help enrollees choose. I'm not sure if he is advocating a "one size fits all" program (or at least moving in a direction of fewer choices), or if he is saying that people are too stupid to choose between private plans, unless the government provides selection assistance. I suppose the former is a solution to the latter.

Senator Nelson (of FL) make a UC request to proceed to the consideration of S.1841 - The Medicare Informed Choice Act of 2005 upon the conclusion of S.1955. Senator Session objects, on behalf of the GOP. Nelson's characterization of S.1841 is that it would extend the sign-up date for the Medicare prescription program to December 31, 2006; would NOT impose any late enrollment penalty, and would permit enrollees to make a one-time change in the selection of plan, as long as the change is made in calendar year 2006. He asserts that the Congressional Budget Office says the extended deadline would result in 1 million more enrollees.

Senator Harkin bemoaning failure of the GOP to bring up the embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) bill, H.R.810. Harkin says he knows this bill would pass the Senate - so why not bring it up?

Stupid Senate - if you'd just vote up or down on these various measures, more of them could be considered. Meanwhile, you are sitting around now, obstructing bringing up S.22, S.23, and probably S.1955.

Hatch says he agrees with bringing up H.R.810, and hopes Frist will bring it up in the near future.

Senator Santorum up at about 3:15 PM, and he is talking about how unfriendly Pennsylvania is, in particular to neurosurgeons and OB/GYN. In the case of neurosurgeons, that some patients die because of a doctor shortage. He notes that "pain and suffering" is a big driver, and he advocates capping that. What I don't quite understand, if Texas can get it right, and Pennsylvania hasn't yet, why should the Federal Government step in? Is everything a federal issue? I remember joking around as a kid, "Don't make a federal case out of it!" Nary a word from the Senators on the federalism angle.


Cloture votes

My sense, listening to the general tenor of speeches from both sides, is that the cloture votes will not reach the 60 AYE necessary to get to the motion to proceed. If so, that would set up a vote tomorrow, that has the same procedural posture - debating whether or not to even take up "taking up" of S. 1955. Interesting that the DEMs are able to control the agenda through obstruction.

S.1955 seems to have more support, based on Senator Nelson (of Nebraska) comments - so there is some hope for a little bit of "health week" after all.

First cloture vote is breaking straight party line, which means it will fail. Nelson of NB and Lieberman voted against cloture. I'm not sure if Senator Frist intends to make a "I'm disappointed" speech between the two cloture votes, or if he's planning to save it until after the second one fails. I have 42 votes against cloture right now, on the first vote.

Cloture on motion to proceed to S.22 REJECTED 48-42 (need 60 AYE - Crapo, Graham and Shelby of Alabama voted NAY)

Hmm, only 90 Senators in the house. Oh well, at least the DEMs had to show up in order to work their obstruction. And new I know the answer to when any "disappointment" speech will come - after the second vote, the one that is underway at this moment (5:56 PM). This also is breaking on straight party line, Chaffee, Collins AYE, for example. Out with a whimper. I have 39 no votes now (6:06), unless the house suddenly fills to 99 Senators, the AYEs can't get the 60 required to invoke cloture.

Cloture on motion to proceed to S.23 REJECTED 49-44 Senators Carpo, Graham and Shelby voted NAY on this one as well. I think one can find a side-story there.

Frist's "I'm disappointed" speech coming up shortly. Oh, not even Frist. Senator Enzi explaining the procedural stance, 10:00 AM cloture vote on the motion to take up S.1955, the Small Business Health Plan Bill. I agree with Enzi's prediction that the cloture vote on this will likely obtain the 60 votes necessary to debate and eventually vote on whether or not to proceed to the bill itself.

Senator Enzi says that he thinks the Senate SHOULD debate Lincoln's bill, one that Reid will argue is better than the Small Business Health Care bill being offered by Senator Enzi. The procedural outlook for the week is lots of debate about which bills to take up, and little debate relating to bills and amendments that have been picked up. I agree that the amendment tree on S.1955 will be filled by the GOP - no amendments, or few amendments, and certainly nothing in the nature of a substitute. Enzi says the DEMs will engage in discussions about the Medicare drug plan, and other diversionary (but topically related) matters.

On a totally separate subject, while Enzi is rambling, this snippet by John Derbyshire is too funny to let go without pointing to it. Click on "turn Hilbert into a fighting machine."

Action advancing S.Res 458 - the national anthem and pledge in English, being discharged from Committee; and separately, an authorization to permit the clerk to correct engrossed language between two different versions of amendment to a bill that I didn't catch in passing.

Senator Enzi (with Senator Allen presiding) adjourns the Senate until 9:45 tomorrow, with the cloture vote coming at 10:00 AM. I guess any "I'm disappointed" or "You're obstructionist" speeches will come tomorrow, if at all. All I can say is "WOW! How forceful!" Whimper, indeed.


The White House is pushing Kavanaugh's nomination, a good sign in that the Judiciary Committee is having hearings on that tomorrow afternoon (2:00 PM). Also at the WH website, under "today's news," In Focus: Judicial Nominations. I'd say that's a fair leading indicator for next week's Senate activity, or the week after that.

Selections from the Record

8 . IMMIGRATION

Mr. FRIST. ... I do encourage all of our colleagues to recognize that step one is debating the bill here on the floor of the Senate, getting it off the floor with a majority vote, and I would argue for a good comprehensive bill stressing the border and border security. What I would like to do, as I discussed scheduling with the Democratic leader, is to be on the immigration bill next week and the following week. That should give adequate time. [Next week then will be immigration week, again - Groundhog week.]

10 . MEDICAL CARE ACCESS PROTECTION ACT OF 2006

Mr. VOINOVICH. Mr. President, I rise to speak today about the dilemma this Nation is facing regarding access to quality, affordable health care. Next to the economy, it is the greatest domestic challenge facing our Nation. In fact, the rising cost of health care is a major part of what is hurting our competitiveness in the global marketplace.

One of the biggest factors driving health care costs through the roof is medical lawsuit abuse. I have been concerned about this issue for quite some time--in fact, since my days as Governor of Ohio. I wish we had the outpouring of support for medical liability reform back then that I see now. In 1996, I essentially had to pull teeth in the Ohio Legislature to pass my tort reform bill.

I signed it into law in October 1996. Three years later, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, and if that law had withstood the supreme court's scrutiny, Ohioans wouldn't be facing the medical access problems they are facing today.

[Interesting aspect. Even if tort reform is legislated, doesn't mean it will "stick." And on the subject of health care relating to birthing, the AP reports that the US has the worst infant mortality rate of the so-called developed countries.]

Like these doctors, in 2004, a survey by the Ohio State Medical Association, OSMA, indicated that 34 percent of Ohio physicians expect to close their practices within the next 2 years without a reversal in medical liability rates.

[And Ohio's problem is a federal issue because ....? Oh, because Voinovich is in the US Congress.]

Nevertheless, I am very hopeful when I now hear from physicians back home that thanks to the latest packages of tort reform measure that passed the Ohio State Legislature, medical liability rates are finally beginning to stabilize.

[Senator Specter is not keen on a legislated solution for tort reform, but he was willing to permit the matter to come up for debate. Note his deference to Courts, which is in line with his philosophy of punting difficult social issues out of Congress and to the Courts.]

Mr. SPECTER. ... Plaintiffs will inevitably face a vastly increased burden to justify a greater [punitive to actual damages award] ratio, and appellate courts have far greater latitude to disallow or reduce such an award.

These decisions may have already, in effect, placed caps on some jury verdicts in malpractice cases which may involve punitive damages.

The pending bills are a starting point for analysis, discussion, debate and amendment. I am prepared to proceed with the caveat that there is much work to be done before the Senate would be ready, in my opinion, for consideration of final passage.

31 . STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mrs. FEINSTEIN (for herself, Mr. Kyl, and Mr. Sununu):

S. 2760. A bill to suspend the duty on imports of ethanol, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I rise today with Senators Kyl and Sununu to introduce a bill to strike the ethanol import tariff. ...

Today, more than ever, I believe that the time has come to end unwarranted subsidies to ethanol producers.

They include: $4.5 billion in agricultural subsidies in 2004 alone that benefit corn farmers (Environmental Working Group); a 51 cent per gallon tax credit for ethanol producers ; and a 7.5 billion gallon ethanol mandate that was included in the energy bill. ...

I believe we need to start by striking the 54 cent per gallon ethanol import tariff.

Ethanol imports are extremely limited, even though production costs for ethanol in foreign countries are significantly lower than in the United States.

For example, according to the Congressional Research Service, Brazilian productions costs are 40 to 50 percent lower than in the United States. Yet the tariff raises the cost of ethanol enough to pose a significant barrier to imports.

It is egregious to put such a high tariff on ethanol importation. It makes it impossible for U.S. consumers to purchase the lowest-cost ethanol. ...

And we are not alone in this effort. Just last week, the President asked that Congress consider eliminating the tariff.

36 . AFFIRMING THAT STATEMENTS OF NATIONAL UNITY SHOULD BE IN ENGLISH

The resolution (S. Res. 458) was agreed to (without a vote, and with only Akaka rising to object)

Resolved, That the Senate affirms that statements or songs that symbolize the unity of the Nation, including the National Anthem, the Oath of Allegiance sworn by new United States citizens, and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States, should be recited or sung in English, the common language of the United States.

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