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SBAM Update on Congressional Struggle Over Health Care Reform

March 18, 2010

(By SBAM health insurance expert Scott Lyon)

Health care reform continues to consume all of the oxygen in Washington, D.C., and on most of the cable news networks. The President has delayed his oversees trip hoping that by his new departure date of Sunday that he will have a major political victory in hand.

Meanwhile extreme political pressure continues to be exerted on the “holdout Democrats” in the House. Closer to home Rep. Dale Kildee has recently agreed to vote for the bill and Rep. Bart Stupak (and as many as 12 other House Democrats who do not want any federal funding for abortion) continues to hold out as a no vote. It seems to SBAM that every other member of our House delegation in Washington is in the camp of their political party – meaning that all of the Democrats are a yes vote and the Republicans are no votes.

On March 16, on behalf of SBAM’s 9,000 small business owners and their 100,000+ employees, I sent a letter to each of our Representatives urging a NO vote. We urge you to do the same. SBAM’s primary opposition to the bill is that it does very little with regards to cost containment. H.R. 3590 contains provisions that will increase the cost of private health insurance and damage our health care delivery system. The bill that passed the Senate includes billions in new taxes, and employer mandates or penalties.

House leaders are attempting what most would consider an end-run. They are working to structure a rule to “deem” the Senate bill completed upon passage of a companion bill that makes changes to the underlying Senate version. In other words, they would be making changes to a bill that has not seen a formal vote and is not law. In essence, they are hoping that the modified bill makes the underlying bill law, even though the bill being “corrected” has never been voted upon. Said Speaker Pelosi: “It’s more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know…but I like it, because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.”

Speaker Pelosi may like “deeming” laws passed, but passing laws without voting on them is blatantly unconstitutional. As former federal judge Michael McConnell wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

“It may be clever, but it is not constitutional. To become law…the Senate health-care bill must actually be signed into law. The Constitution speaks directly to how that is done. According to Article I, Section 7, in order for a “Bill” to “become a Law,” it “shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate” and be “presented to the President of the United States” for signature or veto. Unless a bill actually has “passed” both Houses, it cannot be presented to the president and cannot become a law.” Only in Washington…

All the rule bending/breaking is intended to avoid putting House Democrats in the uncomfortable position of voting on the Senate bill directly, which contains many unfavorable provisions. H.R. 3590 contains provisions that raise costs and cause many problems for our health care system. The bill that passed the Senate includes billions in new taxes, a weak individual mandate that will drive up insurance premiums as people opt out of private insurance until they are sick, the expansion of Medicaid that will cripple state budgets, and a new national long-term care program that would make Bernie Madoff proud. It has been described by Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (a Democrat) as a “Ponzi Scheme.” Further, HR 3590 still includes the special deals negotiated for individual Senators (read bought their votes) in several states including Louisiana, Florida and Nebraska among others. If this becomes law, Michigan taxpayers will be subsidizing these states’ Medicaid populations. Is our economy in good enough shape to afford that?

The House Rules Committee was expected to meet March 17 after the House Budget Committee passed procedural hurdles on March 15 for the use of budget reconciliation. Meanwhile, the Committee delayed taking additional steps until the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis (which just moments ago happened.)

The latest version of the Democrats’ health overhaul will cost $940 billion over a decade and expand insurance coverage to as many as 32 million Americans, according to a CBO report cited March 18 by Democratic aides. The CBO report was delayed for the past three days, (hum, I wonder why it took so long). And remember the $940 billion is only what health care reform will cost the federal government, not what it will cost the American public including you, me and our small business community.

Also, the Senate Parliamentarian and others have voiced skepticism as to whether it would be above-board to “deem” a bill passed with a companion corrections bill before the bill itself is signed into law. The House Rules Committee is expected to wrap up their business giving House members the 72 hours promised by Speaker Pelosi to review the final bill before a vote. It should be an interesting end to the week. Will Michigan State beat New Mexico State in NCAA basketball or will Pelosi beat Boehner?

Not all that surprising is that the politics over process controversy has overshadowed the real issue in the debate, which is – are the votes there to pass this bill/is this a good or bad piece of legislation? While Senate Democrats seem to have the 50 votes necessary to send the bill into a tie-breaking vote for Vice President Joe Biden, House Democrats are reportedly as many as ten votes short of the necessary 216 votes needed for passage.

Stay tuned, this is a very “fluid” process and things are changing weekly/daily/hourly…

(What’s your opinion on health care reform? Get engaged in the debate with fellow small business owners by leaving a comment below or participating in our Forum.)

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