With all eyes fixed on this week's House health care debate, Senate Republicans are quietly girding for battle on the presumed next phase of the battle by stockpiling a long list of amendments they plan to propose once a reconciliation package hits the floor.
Senior Republican leadership aides were reluctant to divulge the number of amendments Senators are prepared to file. But given that reconciliation rules prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from limiting amendments to such a bill, the GOP is looking to upend the Democrats' health care agenda by proposing an unspecified number of changes.
"There is a healthy batch of amendments that were excluded from the health care debate that will serve as a down payment," a senior Republican Senate aide said Monday. "But it is safe to say our Conference has plenty of other ideas that are being put to paper."
Meanwhile, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) would not rule out proposing an amendment to the reconciliation package to add a public insurance option. Bennet, appointed to the Senate to replace now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, is facing a competitive Democratic primary to hold the seat and has emerged of late as a champion of the public option.
Bennet recently spearheaded a letter signed by several Democratic Senators that publicized their support for the option under reconciliation.
"I'd prefer if the House had it included, and I think we're just going to have to wait and see what the Parliamentarian in the Senate says about amendments," Bennet said Monday evening.
The Democratic strategy for passing a final health care bill involves the House moving first under a plan that would allow Members to approve both the original, $875 billion Senate-passed legislation and a package of adjustments under reconciliation. Reconciliation allows Democrats to sidestep a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
In an effort to thwart the Democrats' plans for getting a final health care reform bill to President Barack Obama's desk, senior Republican Senate aides say they will begin by proposing amendments to the reconciliation package that were either rejected or that the GOP had hoped to offer but couldn't during the December debate over the underlying Senate bill.
Republican Senators are also considering hundreds of other amendments. Any change in the reconciliation package would require the bill to be sent back to the House. At the very least, Senate Republicans are hoping to cause several, politically uncomfortable votes for the Democrats.