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The Trouble with Harry: A Senate Update



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On a snowy day in Washington, the Senate was in session to vote on amendments to Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s health-care bill. Reid, predictably, resorted to histrionics in his floor remarks. “14,000 people lose their health insurance every day,“ said Reid. “The American people don’t get weekends off from this injustice.”

Reid may be trying to look tough by working weekends, but most Americans will see him as curiously uninterested in the real drama this weekend: the Alabama-Florida football game for the S.E.C. crown (Bama won). Republicans, meanwhile, mostly yawned during the first day of Reid’s weekend wingding. They know that this debate is nowhere near over. “Majority leaders believe if they stay weekends, somehow we’re going to blink,“ said Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “We’re not going to blink.”

In fact, it was Reid who ended up doing most of the squinting, especially when it came time to count the votes on the Medicare amendment proposed by Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.). The Nebraskan’s motion, which would have eliminated $42 billion in Medicare cuts, was defeated, 53 to 41, but four Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.), and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.).

Lincoln, the AP reports, “initially cast a ‘no’ vote with the Democratic majority but switched to ‘yes’ in the course of the 15-minute vote . . . Lincoln said later that she changed her vote after considering how important home health care is to Arkansas. ‘That’s why they give us 15 minutes,’ said Lincoln.” Yes indeed: 15 minutes for Lincoln to consider the possible ads against her in her reelection battle next year.

Lincoln will have another day in the spotlight tomorrow when her own amendment — to cut the tax breaks on the salaries of health-insurance company executives — will come up for a vote. The money saved from her proposal, she says, will go toward Medicare. Her gist: Cut tax breaks for big-bad execs and save Medicare.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) was quick to say that he doesn’t buy Lincoln’s logic. He wondered: Is it because the insurance execs didn’t play ball with Obama? “We could get a lot of income into the Medicare trust fund by limiting compensation beyond health care to say, for instance, executives of trade associations or union leaders, or trial lawyers or baseball players or movie stars,” he said. The NRSC also criticized Lincoln for her proposal, calling on her to donate the $550,000 in campaign cash she has received over the years from insurance companies to charity.

Beyond amendment bickering, President Obama is also scheduled to visit the Senate tomorrow, where he’ll try to rally Democrats to pass a bill by Christmas. It’s doubtful whether his visit will help to focus Reid’s caucus, especially since they’re an easily distracted bunch.



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