By NACHC Federal Affairs Staff
Today – this afternoon at around 3pm Eastern Time, specifically – the Senate will begin debating their version of health care reform legislation on the floor. The current game plan is to debate the bill until December 23rd, allowing a maximum of twenty-four working days (if they work through the weekends, as has been suggested) to consider amendments, conduct robust discussion and debate, and pass a bill out of the chamber and into conference committee before they adjourn until the new year.
In these coming days and weeks of legislative wrangling, we will see and hear members of the U.S. Senate voice their strongest support and biggest concerns about health reform. But is there a method to their madness? They don’t call it the “world’s greatest deliberative body” for nothing. Here’s some tips and tricks from the hill to optimize your Senate-debate viewing experience, or at least to help you follow along:
- Watch along: You can and should watch the Senate discuss and debate this bill for at least some portion of the historic floor debate. Senate floor proceedings are always broadcast on CSPAN2 on network television or here, streaming online. The Senate’s main website shows their updated floor schedule and will likely have daily updates for the public about any action or debate on the bill. CSPAN’s health reform hub also has timely information and analysis to troll through if you’ve got some downtime during the debate.
- What’s the bill number again? The legislation to watch for in the Senate is not H.R. 3962 (the House-passed reform bill). Instead, Senate Majority Leader Reid wrote the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act as a substitute amendment to H.R. 3590, the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009, which passed the House back in October. As an aside – they’re using this bill for two reasons: first, because some “on the fence” Senators felt that voting to move ahead using the actual House health bill as a vehicle appeared too close to endorsing the House bill, and second, because the constitution says any bills that raise revenue have to originate in the House.
- How will the debate work? The Senate kicks off this afternoon with an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell to offer the first amendments to the bill. Senator Reid is expected to introduce the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an amendment to the bill and Senator McConnell may then counter with a substitute – aka: The Republican Alternative. There are no votes scheduled for today, so we expect a lengthy and informative discussion on whatever amendments are offered through the afternoon and into the evening. We understand that Senator Reid intends to move the debate forward in sections with blocks of time slated for various issues, so it’s likely that amendments will be offered loosely thematically – for example, several amendments restricting funding for abortion may be offered in the same day, amendments on the public option may be offered contemporaneously, and so on. We can expect that Senate to debate some of the most divisive issues vigorously – funding for abortions and non-legal residents, the excise tax, the public option, insurance exchanges, Medicare cuts, and affordability issues – with amendments coming from both sides.
- Amendment watch: Finally, it’s worth remembering that we aren’t sure when or how amendments will come up that impact health centers, so be sure to keep a close watch on your inboxes and our blog for advocacy alerts and updates. And if you’re having trouble following the debate, or translating Senate-floor-speak into plain English, read our blogpost on speaking Senate-ese, or click through to the Senate’s official glossary of terms here.