Having rounded up the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican filibuster of the health care reform bill, Senate Democrats are preparing for a vote later this week on the massive package.
Not everyone is pleased with all aspects of the 3,000-page legislation, but Democrats who have rallied around it are accusing the GOP of being obstructionists for the sake of protecting special interests who stand to lose if the bill becomes law.
If we do nothing to reform health care, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on CBS' "Face the Nation" this morning, "insurance premiums are going to double. I'm amazed as I hear Republican after Republican take to the Senate floor and defend the insurance companies, practices worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge. The way they'd have it, is that the insurance companies would cancel Tiny Tim for a pre-existing condition."
Brown, who supported the public option which was jettisoned from the health care proposal, said he was disappointed in the legislation - "I think it could be a better bill" - but heralded the bill's insurance reform (such as ending exclusions for pre-existing conditions), end of gender discrimination in premiums, strengthening Medicare, and tax breaks for small businesses that ensure their employees.
"Most companies in Cincinnati and Cleveland and Columbus that I talk to want to insure their employees; they can't afford it," Brown said. "If they have 20 employees and one of them gets cancer, it makes their premiums unaffordable. This bill moves absolutely in the right direction."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said more time would be needed to study the effects of the bill, and accused Democrats of subterfuge in scheduling a vote on the bill late at night.
"There's a reason why we're voting on it in the middle of the night," he told host Bob Schieffer. "They're trying to push it through before Christmas. There's a lot of explaining to do. I mean, how are you going to help Medicare by taking a trillion dollars out of Medicare over a ten-year period, at a time when Medicare is going broke in five years according to its trustees? How will taxes help create new jobs when we've got 10% unemployment? How are governors going to pay for the Medicaid expansion? Almost all of them are saying they'll have to raise state taxes. They'll have to raise college tuitions. Then what about the 16 million . . . who are getting dumped into Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans, where 50% of the doctors won't even see new Medicaid patients? There's a lot of explaining to do.
"It is outrageous in the middle of a snowstorm to give us a 2,700-page bill yesterday, start voting literally in the middle of the night, and say 'Let's pass it before we go home for Christmas.'
"We want to take the time to let the American people know what it costs, what it is, how it affects them. We believe when they find out, they won't like it any better than they do now and they won't allow Congress to pass it," Alexander said.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., disputed Alexander's claims, particularly that Democrats were forcing a late-night vote: "There's only one reason we'll be here for Christmas and that's Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). We don't have to vote in the middle of the night. He's the one making us do it, not Harry Reid, the Democrats. It is a Republican obstructionist that is making us vote in the middle of the night."
[Sen. Coburn was one of the Republicans who tried to slow down and extend debate on the bill by having lengthy amendments read in their entirety on the Senate floor, a tactic which, The Hill reported, will be used as the Christmas Eve vote nears.]
Also, Landrieu said, "we've been discussing this issue for 40 years. Not four months, not four weeks: 40 years. We've debated this for 40 years. Since last March, this discussion has been public. So this business about 'they don't know what's in the bill'? It's been widely, widely distributed. The language has been on the Internet. We are going to get this done before Christmas."