Gearing up for Round Two

GEARING UP FOR ROUND TWO…. After a three-day debate over whether to debate health care reform two weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was relieved — to a point. He got the bill to the floor, but realized he’s still pushing uphill.

“We can see the finish line, but we’re not there,” Reid said after the Nov. 21 cloture vote. “The road is a long stretch.”

The first step on that road will begin in about six hours, when the debate over health care reform gets underway on the Senate floor for the first time ever. Reid’s plan is pretty straightforward — pass a bill before Christmas and send it to conference. The Republicans’ plan is equally clear-cut — delay as long as possible, obstruct as much as possible, and bring up as many embarrassing amendments as possible.

Republicans will seek to stop some of the Democrats’ proposed Medicare changes, including cuts to privately run Medicare Advantage plans that provide enhanced benefits mostly at higher cost.

Republicans are likely to try to eliminate or sharply reduce some of the Democrats’ proposed new taxes, including an increase in the Medicare payroll tax for high earners.

There will also be amendments on the politically volatile topics of abortion and immigration. Most of the Republican amendments will fail because the Democrats have the votes to set them aside.

And Republicans will face the challenge of explaining why they need to offer so many amendments when their party leaders have made clear that they simply want to kill the measure.

Ordinarily, amendments are proposed to improve the bill. It’s what makes the Republican amendments pointless — even if their measures pass, they’ll still oppose reform. But the GOP caucus is nevertheless lining up hundreds of possible proposals. They’re also strategizing about having amendments read word for word to slow the process down even further.

Among Dems, as expected, the most contentious point continues to be the public option, which will continue to be the subject of intense behind-the-scenes debate. The search for another compromise on the matter is ongoing, but satisfying the various contingents won’t be easy. Snowe’s “trigger” is still very much in play, as is the notion of a trigger coupled with an option for states to create their own public plans faster.

What’s more, a Politico item noted this morning, “There is one idea that supporters hope could rally the centrists: Call it the nonpublic ‘public option.’ It’s an idea from Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) for a national insurance program that is neither run nor financed by the government. It could win over moderates because it wouldn’t be a direct government expansion, but it would also satisfy liberals because it would be a national health insurance program designed to compete with private insurers from Day One.”

Something to keep an eye on.