Senate healthcare debate: hot time in cold room
It’s been likened to watching paint dry – the long-awaited debate in the Senate Finance Committee over a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
The panel, which prides itself as one of a few in Congress that operates in a bipartisan atmosphere, is in its third day of deliberations. But it has dispensed with only a few of the more than 500 amendments proposed to the legislation put forward by Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
After a delay at the start of Thursday’s session as Baucus waited for senators to arrive to present their amendments, things started to heat up in the freezing cold hearing room.
Discussion began over a proposal by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch that would have required a certification that no more than 1 million people would lose their insurance as a condition of implementing the bill. The debate quickly turned into an angry exchange over which party has the better ideas when it comes to fixing a $2.5 trillion system that almost everyone agrees is too costly and leaves too many people without medical coverage.
Tempers flared when Baucus, a Democrat who has remained upbeat about his bill’s prospects despite taking fire from all sides, made a remark about the lack of a plan from the opposition party. That brought howls of protests from Republicans and Senator Jon Kyl shot back: “We don’t believe in a massive government takeover. You will not see a massive Republican bill to do anything like that.”
As the arguments continued, Baucus interrupted Kyl to try to move things along. Kyl said he was not trying to delay and said it was “not courteous” for the chairman to interrupt someone in the middle of a sentence.
Democratic Senator Kent Conrad broke into the dispute, urging senators to “take a deep breath.” The debate over the Hatch amendment continued and when the time came to vote, the measure failed along strict party lines.
Things cooled down, the committee moved on to other amendments and the paint began to dry again.
Baucus is under pressure from Democratic leaders to quickly move the bill through his committee, the last of five congressional panels assigned to write the healthcare overhaul.
Photo credit: Reuters/Tim Shaffer (artist painting a mural)