Now that President Obama has signed the health care bill into law, the Senate Democrats are putting into motion the final piece of their reform package -- the reconciliation bill.
The Senate this afternoon kicked off debate on the 153-page reconciliation bill that will amend the original "Senate bill" that Mr. Obama signed this morning, and Republicans are ready to offer scores of amendments to draw out the process as long as possible.
"I think it should be noted that this bill that we're dealing with, the reconciliation bill, is the fourth major step forward in the push to drive this country down a road towards a European-style government," Sen. Judd Gregg, the top Republican in the Senate Budget Committee, said today.
In fact, the reconciliation bill is a measure intended to resolve the problems Democrats had with the "Senate bill," which passed the Senate in December and the House on Sunday. For instance, the reconciliation bill would strip the reform package of many of the specials deals that made the bill politically toxic, like the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback." It would also, at the behest of lawmakers interested in protecting labor unions, push back the "Cadillac" tax on high-priced insurance plans until 2018.
The House passed the reconciliation measure on Sunday, after it passed the Senate bill, and the Senate had to wait until the main piece of legislation became law before addressing the reconciliation bill. The reconciliation process only requires 51 votes to pass a bill, but it may only be used on provisions that impact the federal budget.
While it is unlikely Republicans will be able to bring down the reconciliation bill, they can at least stall its passage by introducing countless amendments to be considered. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes to wrap up the debate by Friday or Saturday, the Hill reports.
Gregg told reporters the GOP will offer "a series of substantive amendments, the purpose of which is to try to correct some of the fundamental flaws" of the main legislation. He added, "I know we can't fix it really because it's such a terrible bill."
A portion of the GOP's objections to the bill will address whether its provisions actually follow the rules of reconciliation, Politico reports, though Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said the bill is "completely clean."
Supporters of the Democrats' health care reform package are accusing the GOP of introducing worthless amendments to simply foil the process. The AFL-CIO, the influential federation of labor organizations, said it expects Republicans to introduce amendments that Democrats would normally support, in order to compel Democrats to vote for them and complicate the bill with more amendments.
"Any amendment offered during this process is nothing more than a poison pill," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "A 'NO' on amendments is a 'YES' on health care."
The AFL-CIO says it will stand behind senators who vote for the bill but against any amendments, even on issues they would normally support.
If any amendments pass and the reconciliation bill is altered, it would have to go back to the House for yet another vote. It is likely the House would be able to round up the votes once again, since they passed the measure once already, but it would slow down the process.
While labor unions intend to support legislators who back the health care bill, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said today that trumpeting congressional votes will work in the Republicans' favor. He cited the new CBS News poll showing that few Americans expect to benefit from this legislation.
"You're going to see this become I think one of the signature issues in the November 2010 election," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the GOP's campaign slogan will be "repeal and replace."