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What’s Inside the Senate’s Hastily Wrapped Christmas Package?

December 20, 2009
1:14 pm

Later this week, the U.S. Senate will vote on massive, multi-trilion dollar health reform legislation that was just revealed to members yesterday (Saturday).  For commentary on this measure and the headlong rush to pass it, I turn to Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).  No one can accuse Senator Snowe of being an opponent of health reform.  She was the only Republican to vote for the reform bill that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee and she has been in nonstop negotiations with the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

She’s made it clear, though, that she can’t support this Christmas surprise.  On CBS’s Face the Nation this morning, she explained why.  Below are some excerpts:

“So here we are today with a bill that’s dramatically different, more expansive than the Finance Committee. In fact it’s 1,200 pages more than the Finance Committee legislation. It was placed on the floor just short of three weeks ago. Four hundred amendments and two dozen have been considered voted upon.

“(This is) not unusual since each of the committees that considered the legislation have had more than 500 amendments. Then less than 24 hours yesterday, we get a 400-page amendment that was filed by the Senate majority leader. We are scheduled to vote on that major amendment 15 hours from now at 1:00 in the morning with no opportunity to amend it. All to get done the entire bill with no opportunity to amend it, to change it by Christmas, so that we can adjourn for a three-week recess for a bill that doesn’t become implemented until 2014.”

***

“But on the other hand, you have a 1 percent Medicare payroll tax on small businesses, affecting them disproportionately at a time we’re depending on them to create jobs to lead us out of this recession.

“It is not indexed for inflation. It’s a 62 percent increase. So this will be devastating for small business as well.

“I had submitted a CBO letter on December 3rd with substantial questions on what is the premium cost for every American who will be participating in the exchange? What can they expect?

“As they’re sitting around their kitchen table, they expect certain answers to certain questions. We don’t have those answers to those questions. And that’s why I indicated to hold off. I said to the president and I said to the Senate majority leader and others, please, give us the time; come back after the new year; get together. This is a generational issue that has substantial effects with — in fact, I would say sweeping effects because you’re recalculating one- sixth of our economy.”

***

“And as I indicated to him (President Obama), I’ll continue to work through, our House and Senate conference, but the legislation that is pending — this process denies us the ability to thoroughly and carefully and deliberately evaluate what is at stake. I mean, we’re talking about reordering $33 trillion over the next 10 years.

“Why Christmas? There’s no magic deadline. This “beat the clock” is really overruling legislative sanity.”

Senator Snowe has worked as hard as anyone to achieve a bipartisan compromise on health reform.  If she can’t support this current Senate bill because of its high cost and unnecessary haste, is it any wonder that a growing majority of Americans, according to all polls, also believes Congress needs to stop and reconsider what it’s on the verge of doing.

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