Senators Bring Home Bacon For Overhaul Votes

This weekend the price tag for the Senate health overhaul bill climbed to $871 billion — from $848 billion in November. So what does that extra $23 billion get? Among other things, the votes of several wavering Democratic lawmakers, apparently.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. i i

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson surrounded by reporters after he cast a key vote to move along health overhaul early Monday morning. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson surrounded by reporters after he cast a key vote to move along health overhaul early Monday morning.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada offered a major amendment over the weekend that included prizes to win or secure the support of key Democrats ranging from conservatives such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, to liberals such as Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa. Reid needs the backing of all 58 Senate Democrats and two independents to pave the way for a final vote on the legislation this week.

Some votes appear to command a higher price than others, the New York Times reports.

Nelson—among the last Democratic holdouts—secured a deal in which Washington would foot the full cost of many Nebraskans who would be added to the state's Medicaid program under the bill. He also won tighter restrictions on abortion. The full cost of the expansion isn't clear, but critics have coined the term "cornhusker kickback."

Harkin lauded a provision that would lead to increased in Medicare payments to small, mostly rural hospitals that treat few Medicare patients. He highlighted that provision—among others that benefit rural communities—in a statement. Reid also included an amendment originally sponsored by new-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania for his prized cause, researching cures for life-threatening and debilitating diseases.

According the Times' list, a Pennsylvania dental school may be uniquely qualified to claim $100 million for an opaquely described "health care facility... affiliated with an academic health center at a public research university in the United States that contains a State's sole public academic medical and dental school." Montanans exposed to asbestos in the town of Libby, pop. 2800, could get Medicare coverage care of Sen. Max Baucus.

Politico points out some handouts to liberals, who were disenchanted by negotiations that sunk plans for a government-run insurance plan, too. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats, claimed $10 billion in funding for community clinics. Then there's Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who working with Nelson, secured an exemption from new taxes exclusively for nonprofit insurers in Michigan and Nebraska.

On cue, Republicans lambasted the closed door deal-making. In a statement Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked whether the bill's Democratic supporters who aren't getting special deals know what they're colleagues are walking away with. "Do they think it's a fair deal for their states, for the rest of the country?"

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein offered a tart refresher course on the realities of political sausage-making in a tweet this morning, "Every Republican whining about the deals made to pass health-care reform should demand repeal of Medicare Part D immediately."

Weaver is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.



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