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Senate GOP Forces Health Care Bill Back To House

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Senate GOP Forces Health Care Bill Back To House

Senate GOP Forces Health Care Bill Back To House

Senate GOP Forces Health Care Bill Back To House

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Senate Republicans found minor glitches in a health care bill that will force the measure back to the House. Democrats aren't ruling out the possibility of more flaws.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.


And Im Linda Wertheimer.

The Senate has hit an obstacle in its efforts to finish the job on health care. We already have a new Health Care Law - President Obama signed it on Tuesday -but the House of Representatives had also approved a package of fixes for that legislation. Those fixes are under consideration on the Senate floor, and early today, Senate Republicans forced a change in the measure. Now the House will have to vote on that change.

NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna joins us now to explain.

So, David, first of all, could you just fill us in on how the Republicans force a change?

DAVID WELNA: There are some very special rules that apply to this package of fixes to the Health Care Law, because it's being done under whats known as budget reconciliation. That means it can't be filibustered by Senate Republicans but it also means that everything in this 150-page corrections bill has to have a direct impact on the budget.

Now, the provision that was challenged by Republicans doesnt actually have to do with health care, it has to do with a revision of the federally-backed student loan program, because what - that provision is not in compliance with those budget rules. Senate Democrats recognized that it's going to have to taken out of this larger bill. And because it's being taken out, that means it has to go back to the House.

WERTHEIMER: So what affect does this have on the effort to revise the health care overhaul that became law earlier in the week? Does it put any of that in any kind of jeopardy?

WELNA: Virtually all of the nearly two-dozen reconciliation bills that have been done in the past 30 years in Congress have involved the Senate sending back its reconciliation package to the House for approval once again. So this is nothing that new. And, in fact, there's a lot of confidence, among Democrats, that the House will have no problem approving this package, because the changes in it dont seem to be that substantive.

The package did pass the House on Sunday evening by a vote of 220-211, so they feel like there's a fairly comfortable margin there. And Senate Democrats had expected that there might be glitches like this on procedural grounds, so they're not that worried about it on that front.

WERTHEIMER: So if all goes as the Democrats hope it will, it'll just bounce and go straight, then, to the White House for signature.

WELNA: That's right.

WERTHEIMER: David, the Senate was in session until early this morning. Why are they sitting so late? Whats going on?

WELNA: Well, it's not like they like to stay in session until nearly 3:00 in the morning, normally. But this reconciliation treatment requires that once they introduce amendments - and there are unlimited amendments that Republican can introduce, and they have only been Republican amendments - then they have to vote on them one after another. And they had voted on more than two-dozen of these amendments because an amendment can change a bill, also, and send it back to the House.

Every one of those was knocked down by Senate Democrats and they were virtually all tabled. And there are more amendments still being voted on. And the Senate has to give final passage to this reconciliation bill before it goes back to the House. That is expected today.

But this whole thing could be wrapped up as soon as tonight if the House finishes it. And then you would have both the Health Care Law and the package of amendments to that law going to White House that would change that law, just within a matter of days.

WERTHEIMER: David, something completely different. We've seen reports that some House members have requested additional protection after receiving threats because of their votes on health care.

WELNA: There have been at least 10 House Democrats whove reported incidents involving either threatening phone calls, bricks thrown through the windows of their district headquarters, states' Democratic Parties having threats and vandalism occurring on their premises, as well. About a hundred House Democrats met with the FBI and the Capitol Police yesterday. And some House members requested further protection.

They're going back for a two-week break, now, to their districts, and they are concerned about these attacks continuing.

WERTHEIMER: David, thank you very much.

WELNA: You're quite welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna.

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House Gives Final Approval To Health Care Overhaul

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada (center), flanked by fellow Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey (left) and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, speaks Thursday after the chamber approved a package of changes to the recently passed health care legislation. The measure then was sent to the House for final approval. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada (center), flanked by fellow Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey (left) and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, speaks Thursday after the chamber approved a package of changes to the recently passed health care legislation. The measure then was sent to the House for final approval.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Follow That Bill

Sunday: House passes Senate health bill; Houses passes budget reconciliation bill containing compromise amendments to the health bill. Both pass with no Republican support.

Tuesday: Senate opens debate on the budget reconciliation bill; any changes to the language mean the bill has to go back to the House. President Obama signs the health bill into law. More than a dozen states file suit arguing, among other things, that the insurance mandate in the new health care law is unconstitutional and Congress has no authority to force people to buy insurance.

Wednesday: To reassure the anti-abortion Democrats, President Obama signs an executive order reaffirming that no federal funding in the health law will go toward abortion.

Thursday: Senate Republicans find language in reconciliation bill regarding student loans that violates process rules. After the provisions were stripped from the bill, the Senate voted to pass it.

The changed reconciliation bill was sent back to the House, which passed the measure Thursday evening, clearing the way for Obama's signature.

— Kathleen Masterson

Capping a bitterly fought battle over the top item on President Obama's domestic agenda, the House gave final approval to the health overhaul Thursday, after the Senate made changes and returned the measure earlier in the day.

The House voted 220-207 for the bill, which now heads to Obama for his signature. No Republicans supported the measure.

Democrats who were eager to put the long fight over health care behind them had hoped a Senate vote would finish the job. But Republicans identified problems with two provisions relating to Pell Grants for low-income students that violated the rules of the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats were using to speed the bill's passage and block a filibuster.

The provisions were stripped from the bill, and the Senate passed it on a 56-43 party-line vote. No Republicans voted for the measure, and three Democrats also opposed it.

Under reconciliation rules, the legislation had to get kicked back to the House because of the changes.

Shortly before the Senate vote, Obama delivered a message to Republicans who said they will try to repeal his health care overhaul: "Go for it." Obama was at a campaign-style rally in Iowa to bolster support for the new law and explain what it means to average Americans.

A Barrage Of Amendments

The Senate vote followed a nine-hour marathon session stretching past 2 a.m. Thursday in which Democrats defeated 29 Republican amendments, any one of which would have sent the legislation back to the House.

Although Obama signed the health care bill into law Tuesday, the package of changes sought by the House still needed to get through the Senate. So Republicans sought to gum up the process by issuing the barrage of amendments.

One by one, Democrats voted down GOP proposals that, for example, would have rolled back cuts to Medicare and barred tax increases for families earning less than $250,000. They also defeated an amendment that would have prohibited federal money for the purchase of Viagra and other erectile-dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced the amendment, saying it would save millions of dollars. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) called the proposed change "a crass political stunt."

"There's no attempt to improve the bill. There's an attempt to destroy this bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

"The majority leader may not think we're serious about changing the bill, but we'd like to change the bill, and with a little help from our friends on the other side we could improve the bill significantly," answered Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Democrats noted that nearly every reconciliation bill has been subject to last-minute revisions.

Republicans And 'Armageddon'

Obama's trip to Iowa City, Iowa — where as a presidential candidate he announced his health care blueprint — was the first of many appearances around the country to sell the overhaul to voters before the fall congressional elections.

"Three years ago, I came here to this campus to make a promise," Obama told the crowd gathered at the University of Iowa, "that by the end of my first term in office, I would sign legislation to reform our health insurance system."

The president said there had been "plenty of fear-mongering and overheated rhetoric" about the health care overhaul.

"Leaders of the Republican Party, they called the passage of this bill 'Armageddon,' the end of freedom as we know it," Obama said. "So, after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling," he said to laughter and applause.

"But from this day forward, all of the cynics and the naysayers will have to finally confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn't," the president said.

Threats And Intimidation Tactics

As Congress wrangles with legislative details, discontent over changes to the nation's health care system has spilled over into threats of violence against lawmakers who voted for the overhaul.

The FBI is investigating at least four incidents in which bricks were thrown through the windows of Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas, including Rep. Louise Slaughter's district headquarters in Niagara Falls, N.Y. And at least 10 members of Congress reported receiving threatening e-mails, phone calls and faxes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday that intimidation tactics "must be rejected," adding that such behavior has "no place in a civil debate in our country."

Some of the worst threats targeted Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, an anti-abortion Democrat who cast a key vote for the overhaul in exchange for an executive order prohibiting federal funding of abortion. One man called Stupak's office to say he hopes the congressman gets cancer and dies, while a female caller said "millions of people wish you ill" and "those thoughts will materialize into something that's not very good for you."

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement that while many Americans are angry over the bill's passage, "violence and threats are unacceptable."

"That's not the American way," he said. "We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change."

Later, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor went on the offensive, saying Democratic leaders were "reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain."

Cantor said his own campaign office had been shot at and that he had received threatening e-mails this week, but didn't elaborate. He said he would not release the e-mails "because I believe such actions will encourage more to be sent."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report