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Senate Prepares Health Care Finale

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (left), huddling with Finance Chairman Max Baucus, is looking to bring the yearlong health care debate to a relatively drama-free close this week.

The GOP has three goals: poke procedural holes in the legislation to try to strip a provision or two and force the House to revote on it, amend the bill to improve the substance, and advance a broader midterm campaign message that involves building public opposition to the new law.

Despite the fact that Obama signed the bulk of the Democrats’ health care reform agenda into law already, Senate Republicans appeared committed to trying to change the reconciliation legislation.

“I think it’s still important that Democrats have committed to the House Democrats that they’ll pass this bill that has even greater Medicare cuts, even greater tax increases — even more special deals. I think the American people need to focus on this second bill as well,” McConnell told reporters. “We’re going to treat it as a serious legislative exercise, and will have, as Sen. [Judd] Gregg [R-N.H.] indicated, a number of amendments that are important that people go on record on.”

Republicans used their weekly Tuesday luncheon to prepare their floor and political strategy for the week, and rank-and-file Senators suggested afterward that they are still energized and committed to fighting the Democrats. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said the Conference would continue to show resolve as the battle over reconciliation got under way and would proceed in a “very controlled, very methodical” way.

“I think we’ve got our act together,” he said.

Despite the Democrats’ professed confidence, Republicans still believe they can force the House to revote on the bill by winning a budget point-of-order challenge. At press time, Republicans were still attempting to schedule a meeting with the Parliamentarian and the Democrats to present the points of order they plan to raise.

Republican leaders declined to discuss many details but said they would raise one point of order over an appropriation in the package they say doesn’t fall within the confines of reconciliation rules.

But they did begin to reveal some of the several dozen or more amendments they would offer.

“We can still raise — because we have not had an opportunity to — some of the substantive policy questions which are out there and should be discussed in an amendment-type atmosphere,” said Gregg, ranking member on the Budget Committee.

Gregg said the Republicans would propose “a whole series of amendments,” starting with one that addresses a proposed cut in Medicare funding. Gregg conceded that Republicans couldn’t reshape the bill enough to support it but said some amendments might reverse some of the legislation’s “fundamental flaws.”

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