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Senate Republicans Push Back on Health Care Fixes

March 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Republicans proposed a long list of amendments during Senate debate on a package of changes to the new health care bill, as Democrats attempt to finish the legislation. Ray Suarez reports.
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JIM LEHRER: Senate Democrats moved today to finish work on a package of changes to the new health care reform law. Republicans pressed a long list of amendments.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

RAY SUAREZ: It was clear on the Senate floor Republicans are not giving way on health care reform, yet.

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire warned against cutting Medicare to pay for covering the uninsured.

SEN. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H.: The claim is, oh, well, we don’t affect senior benefits. Well, that’s nice. That’s like telling somebody you can have a car, but there’s no engine in it. I mean, the simple fact is that, when you cut the providers of the seniors by as much as this bill cuts them, clearly, it’s going to be harder for a senior citizen to see a provider.

RAY SUAREZ: Arizona’s John McCain insisted the projected Medicare savings are a sham anyway.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: And no one, no one, no one believes that the so-called doc fix, that there will be a 21 percent cut in doctors’ payment, physicians’ payment for treatment of Medicare patients, is going to happen. This is a — you can put lipstick on a pig, Mr. President, but this is still a pig.

RAY SUAREZ: The fixes before the Senate included expanded Medicaid funding for the states, higher taxes on upper-income Americans, and improved drug coverage under Medicare.

Democrats like Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said Republicans should stop stalling, accept the new law as a done deal, and approve the fixes.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI, D-Md.: I listen to the other side, who says that they listen to the people. Well, you know you heard the old saying men are from Mars, women are from Venus? I think that party is from Mars, and we’re from planet Earth. I think they have been out in our orbit. The planet Earth that I’m on tells me to pass health insurance.

RAY SUAREZ: And Democrat Max Baucus of Montana said the public can judge who’s in command of the facts.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-Mont., finance committee chairman: Now that health care reform has passed — the president signed the bill yesterday — now Americans can look for themselves as to who’s telling the truth. And they can — they will want to look more closely than they have in the past, because now it’s a law.

RAY SUAREZ: The latest look at public opinion came in a “USA Today”/Gallup poll. It found support for reform improved after the landmark House vote. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said the reforms are a good first step. Thirty-one percent said the new law makes the wrong types of changes.

Meanwhile, at the White House, President Obama signed an executive order reaffirming existing law that bars the use of federal funds for abortions. It was part of a deal to win over a critical bloc of anti- abortion House Democrats. Many of those members were on hand for the signing today in a private ceremony.

But there was also fallout from weekend protests at the Capitol. More than 10 House Democrats reported getting threats during and since the House vote. Back in the Senate, the debate slogged on, through a slew of Republican amendments.

MAN: The senator from Oklahoma, Mr. Coburn, proposes an amendment numbered 3556.

RAY SUAREZ: They ranged from barring coverage of Viagra for sex offenders to protecting states’ rights.

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-Okla.: If this bill goes through without this amendment, your tax dollars are going to be paying for Viagra for child molesters. That’s what’s going to happen.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, R-Texas: The amendment that I offer today is to allow states to opt out of this health care bill. If ever there was an encroachment on the 10th Amendment, this bill is it.

RAY SUAREZ: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed the amendments and parliamentary points of order as distractions.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: How serious could they be, offering an amendment out here on gay marriage in the District of Columbia? How serious could they be, offering an amendment dealing with Viagra for rapists? I mean, this is — this is — this is — this isn’t serious.

RAY SUAREZ: This evening, the Senate headed into a long series of votes that could last into early tomorrow morning.