Thursday: Health Bill Heads Back to House; Lawmakers Receive Threats
Democratic Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada hold a news conference Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)
Just when House Democrats thought they were out, Senate Republicans pulled them back in – at least temporarily. Health care reform is headed back for a second vote in the House after GOP lawmakers in the Senate early Thursday morning identified two minor provisions that violate the rules of reconciliation.
The successful Republican challenge does not appear to threaten the broader health bill passed by the House on Sunday. However, because the violations will force the Senate to amend the reconciliation bill, parliamentary rules require the House to vote on any modifications to the measure approved by the upper chamber.
The violations involve changes to the Pell Grant program for low-income college students. According to Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the violations total no more than 16 lines from the 153-page bill. As written, the reconciliation bill would prevent any reductions to the maximum Pell Grant award.
“After hours of scrubbing the bill, this is the best they can come up with,” Manley told reporters, adding, “I’m confident this can be addressed quickly in the House.”
The House is expected to approve the changes before Congress leaves for a two-week recess beginning March 29.
The Senate capped a late-night session on the reconciliation bill just shy of 3 a.m. Thursday. During the marathon session, Democrats struck down 29 Republican amendments aimed at derailing the measure, including a proposal barring sex offenders from purchasing Viagra. The chamber is scheduled to reconvene at 9:45 a.m., with a vote scheduled for 2 p.m.
As lawmakers prepare to head home, some Democrats are facing increased security fears after receiving threats over their votes for health care reform. Michigan’s Bart Stupak has received several threatening messages, while the office of South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn received a fax depicting a noose. In Missouri, Rep. Russ Carnahan had a coffin placed on his lawn.
Gun imagery was used in a posting on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, where the former Alaska governor and candidate for vice president is urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket two years ago. Palin’s post featured a U.S. map with crosshairs over the 20 districts.
Congressional Democrats met with the FBI, the Capitol Police and the House sergeant at arms Wednesday to discuss the threats. After the closed-door session, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said members who feel at risk would “get attention from the proper authorities.”
White House, Israel Fail to Reach Agreement on Settlements
The Obama administration has failed to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to commit to reining in any further building and to move ahead on peace talks with the Palestinians. Though Netanyahu expressed optimism over peace negotiations following meetings in Washington with President Obama this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the prime minister “apparently … did not reach an understanding with the U.S.”
Jobless Claims Fall Unexpectedly
Initial jobless claims fell more than expected last week while continuing claims fell to their lowest level since December 2008, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time claims for jobless benefits fell by 14,000 to 442,000; claims for continuing benefits fell by 54,000 to 4.65 million.
Osama bin Laden Releases Taped Threat Against Americans
According to a new audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera, Osama bin Laden has vowed that any Americans taken prisoner by al-Qaida will be killed if the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is executed by the United States.
Vatican Did Not Defrock Wisc. Priest Despite Abuses
Despite repeated warnings from several American bishops, the Vatican did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys. The New York Times reports, “While church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.”