by NPR staff and wires
Senate Republicans forced late-night changes to a bill amending President Obama’s landmark health care legislation early Thursday, a move that bounces the package of “fixes” back to the House for another vote.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans consulting with the Senate parliamentarian identified problems with “two minor provisions” relating to Pell grants for low-income students. Democrats were using a procedure called budget reconciliation to speed the bill’s passage and block a filibuster, but the Pell grant sections were found to violate reconciliation rules that all provisions must directly impact the budget.
Democrats called the development a minor glitch and said they believe they have a comfortable margin of passage in the House.
“I expect to get this bill back from the Senate sometime later this afternoon, and I would expect a couple of hours thereafter we will have the bill on the floor for final passage and it will pass the House and be sent to the president,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CBS’ The Early Show Thursday.
The two provisions are expected to be formally removed from the bill on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to take a final vote that afternoon. A final vote in the House could come as soon as Thursday night.
The Senate announcement followed a nine-hour marathon session stretching past 2 a.m. in which Democrats defeated 29 Republican amendments — any one of which would have sent the legislation back to the House.
Although President Obama signed the health care overhaul into law Tuesday, the package of changes sought by the House still needed to get through the Senate. So Republicans sought to gum up the process by issuing the barrage of amendments.
One by one, Democrats voted down GOP proposals that, for example, would have rolled back cuts to Medicare and barred tax increases for families earning less than $250,000. They also defeated an amendment that would have prohibited federal money for the purchase of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the amendment, saying it would save millions of dollars. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) called the proposed change “a crass political stunt.”
Democrats noted that nearly every reconciliation bill has been subject to last-minute revisions. But lawmakers didn’t rule out the possibility that Republicans could scuttle other sections of the reconciliation bill.
Despite the glitch, Obama was expected to go ahead with a trip to Iowa City, where as a presidential candidate, he offered a blueprint for fixing health care.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “the president believes it is important to continue to talk about the many aspects of the law that will do precisely what he said they’re intended to do.”
He added that those included help for small businesses to provide their employees coverage and allowing parents to keep their children on policies through the age of 26.
As Congress wrangles with legislative details, discontent over changes to the nation’s health care system spilled over into threats of violence against lawmakers who voted for the overhaul.
The FBI is investigating at least four incidents in which bricks were thrown through the windows of Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas, including Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district headquarters in Niagara Falls, N.Y. And at least 10 members of Congress reported received threatening emails, phone calls and faxes.
Some of the worst threats targeted Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat who cast a key vote for the overhaul in exchange for an executive order prohibiting federal funding of abortion. One man called Stupak’s office to say he hopes the congressman gets cancer and dies, while a female caller said “millions of people wish you ill” and “those thoughts will materialize into something that’s not very good for you.”
Hoyer said he takes such threats “very seriously.”
“The bottom line is, we need to be very careful in public life that our rhetoric doesn’t incite to violent acts,” the Maryland Democrat told a TV news show Thursday. Hoyer said dealing with difficult issues in a civil and peaceful manner is “at the core of our democracy.”