Amendments To Watch For Tuesday And Beyond

When the Senate Finance Committee starts work again on Tuesday things should get heated. Here are some of the more interesting amendments to watch out for.

Free Choice Amendment – Wyden C1
What it hopes to do: It would allow employee's who do not like their current employer provided health insurance to ask for a voucher to buy insurance for themselves on the new exchange.

Wyden's Free Choice Amendments is very important to the Senator. He has gone so far as to say that it is “a prerequisite to supporting the bill.” The CBO concluded it would have very little effect on overall health insurance and only save $1 billion. Wyden has been selling his amendments to conservatives as a way to increase choice and to liberals as a way to give more people access to the public option. This amendment is a wild card with the possibility of some bipartisan support. The amendment is opposed by the Chamber of Commerce.

What to look for:
Watch to see if any Republicans (especially Snowe) decide to back Wyden's free choice amendment. Also check out how Baucus and Conrad vote. The amendment may upset the delicate balance of back room deals and compromises Baucus has tried to achieve.

Applying Regulation To Large Group and Self-Insured Market – Rockefeller C1
What it hopes to do: It would apply all new insurance regulations to self-insured and large group market

The bill as currently written would exclude insurance provide by large employers from most of the new consumer protection regulations. While big business (i.e. the Chamber of Commerce) is opposed to the amendment it should be very politically difficult vote for any Democrats to vote against it. No one wants to be on record voting against protecting everyone from some of the worst insurance practices

What to look for:
Watch to see if any Democrat besides maybe Baucus votes against the amendment. Also important is to see how Snowe votes. If she supports the amendment it should make it into the final bill.

Various Public Option Amendments - Schumer, Cantwell, Rockefeller
What it hopes to do: Add a public option to Baucus' bill.

Senators Rockefeller and Schumer have been the most vocal supporters of the public option on the Senate Finance Committee. Rockefeller is likely to introduce a robust public option tied to Medicare, while Schumer plans to introduce a “level paying field” public option which must negotiate it's rates independent from Medicare. Schumer and Rockefeller have been working closely on the issue and have not yet decided on the best political strategy. They may choose to only introduce Schumer's weaker public option in an attempt to show the idea of a public option has strong support. They might also introduce two public option amendments hoping to give conservative Democrats cover of voting against the robust public option but supporting the weaker “compromise.”

What to look for:
First watch to see how many public option amendments are debated. Pay close attention to the CBO scores each public option gets. Baucus's use of the second lowest cost plan as the benchmark for determining tax credits may prevent the CBO from scoring the public option as saving money. Finally, pay attention to how conservative Democrats (Baucus, Carper, Lincoln, Conrad, Nelson) vote on Schumer's “level playing field” public option.

“Safety Net” Trigger Amendment – Snowe C1
What it hopes to do: It would trigger a weak state base public option if a low standard of affordablity is not met in any state at some time in the future.

The new message from prominent Democrats seems to be that what ever Sen. Snowe wants is a great idea. Despite being a worthless fig leaf Peter Orszag, Harry Reid, and Bill Clinton have all talked positively about it. The idea of a trigger is opposed by all the other Republicans on the committee along with many liberals who think it is worthless.

What to look for:
It is possible liberals could join with Republicans to kill Snowe's trigger. Pay attention to how the more progressives Democrats like Schumer, Rockefeller, Stabenow, and Cantwell vote. If they vote for the amendment it is probably because they got pressure to do so from leadership. Also pay attention to how Baucus votes. A trigger will likely insure that the final bill won't get more than 1-3 Republican votes in the Senate. If he supports the trigger amendment it is a clear sign he has fully given up on any hope of broad bipartisan support.

If Snowe's trigger amendment is not brought for a vote in committee it might be a sign that enough liberals on the committee have threatened to vote against it. If it failed in committee it would be more politically difficult for Reid to insert the idea when he combines the two committee bills.

Eliminating The CO-OPS - Rockefeller C11
What it hopes to do: Remove co-ops from the bill

Conrad created the idea of the non-profit co-ops instead of a public option in an attempt to find broad compromise. The idea failed miserably. Liberals Democrats and conservative Republicans both attacked the idea. The idea seems to be losing support with even Conrad admitting they should be stronger.

What to look for:
Watch to see which progressive members of the committee vote against the co-op idea. The votes of Republicans Snowe, Grassley, and Enzi should be interesting. All three were part of the Gang of Six that negotiated the co-ops idea. With Grassley and Enzi unlikely to support the bill, it is interesting to see if they will vote against the co-ops idea they helped create.

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