Republicans In Push To Stall Health Overhaul

Senate Republicans have scores of amendments to offer during the remaining hours of debate on House fixes to the new health care law, including a ban on Viagra prescriptions for sex offenders and other measures designed to embarrass Democrats who must vote against them all, or send the results back to the House.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Congress, Senate Democrats are pushing through a package of fixes to the health care overhaul that became law yesterday. Under special budget rules, there can be no filibusters to block the measure, and only 20 hours of debate. But Republicans can offer an unlimited number of amendments. And as GOP senators make what could be their last stand against the overhaul, many of the amendments they're offering are designed to put Democrats in a bind.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: Republicans would like to do two things with their amendments. They'd like to add them to the bill of fixes and thus change it, which would mean it would have to go back for another vote in the House. So Democrats don't want to vote for those amendments. Republicans would also like to score some political points, so they've crafted a series of amendments to make Democrats squirm.

Today on the Senate floor, Alaska freshman Democrat Mark Begich warned things could get confusing when the voting gets underway.

Senator MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Alaska): Because what you will see on the other side is every imaginable amendment that we would love to see, many of them we'd probably would love to vote for. I'm not voting for any of them.

Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): This mend will prohibit prescriptions for recreational drugs for rapists and child molesters.

WELNA: That's Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn. He practically dared Democrats today to vote against extending a current ban on using federal health care dollars to buy erectile dysfunction drugs for convicted sex offenders.

Sen. COBURN: Nobody can disagree with that. It's not in the bill. It's the current state. But if this bill goes through without this amendment, your tax dollars are going to be paying for Viagra for child molesters.

WELNA: At a rally promoting the new health care law, Senate majority leader Harry Reid reacted to Coburn's amendment with scorn.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Majority Leader): How serious could they be offering an amendment dealing with Viagra for rapists?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. REID: I mean, this isn't serious so we feel very comfortable and confident.

WELNA: Another GOP amendment proposed by Florida's George LeMieux would force every member of Congress to have health care provided through Medicaid - the underfunded federal program for people with low incomes.

Senator GEORGE LEMIEUX (Republican, Florida): This law now puts 16 million more Americans into Medicaid, a failing program. So if it's good enough for 16 million more Americans, good enough for 50 million Americans total, then the members of Congress should have it and let's see what they do about that.

WELNA: Would you like to be covered by Medicaid?

Sen. LEMIEUX: Sure - no, I wouldn't. I wouldn't. It's a program that's in trouble.

WELNA: Well, why are you proposing it then if you wouldn't want it for yourself?

Sen. LEMIEUX: I'm proposing it to make a point.

WELNA: And perhaps to score some points as well. But it's not clear whether the GOP scored any points today deploying another tactic: shutting down half a dozen hearings that were scheduled for this afternoon. Even some Republicans called that a bad move.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

SIEGEL: And in voting this evening, both the Medicaid and the so-called Viagra amendments were defeated as expected.

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