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What Happened to the Senate?

March 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The U.S. Senate prides itself on being the world's greatest deliberative body. But if you turn on C-SPAN 2 right now, you'll see a Senate devolved into thoughtless obstruction and petty politicking. For the Senate as an institution, there is nothing "great" about what they are going to spend the rest of the night doing.

Since Monday, the Senate has been trying to get to an up-or-down vote on the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which makes a series of "fixes" to the new health care reform law and reforms the student loan industry. It's being considered under budget reconciliation rules, which limits debate time to 20 hours and denies the minority the ability to filibuster.

But, even though they can't filibuster, Senate Republicans are blocking the vote by forcing the Senate into an absurd process known as a "vote-a-rama." It's what happens when the time that is set aside for debate on a bill has ended, but there are still amendments pending that need to be voted on. The remaining amendments are brought up one by one and, without debate, voted on quickly and either adopted or rejected. No deliberation.

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Congress Links

March 24, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Congress is gradually moving away from its “all health care all the time” programming and is considering other topics like financial reform. However, the battle in the Senate over the reconciliation bill (H.R.4872) amending the health care bill rages on. For a second day, Republicans are exploiting an obscure rule to prevent any Senate committee hearing from being held after 2 p.m. in an attempt to somehow affect the debate over the reconciliation bill. While you wait for your Senate committee hearing to be rescheduled, check out today's edition of Congress Links.

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Not Quite as Advertised

March 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As Democrats ramped up their push to sell health care reform, one of the benefits they said would come right away was a ban on denying coverage for kids who have pre-existing conditions."This year ... parents who are worried about getting coverage for their children with pre-existing conditions now are assured that insurance companies have to give them coverage — this year," President Obama said on Saturday in a televised meeting with House Democrats.

But, as the AP reports this morning, it doesn't actually work that way.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.

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GOP Takes Out Their HCR Frustration on Open Gov

March 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

We already know that the Republicans have vowed to be as uncooperative as possible during consideration of the budget reconciliation bill to amend the health care bill. This afternoon, while Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller was testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing on "removing the shroud of secrecy: making government more transparent and accountable," Sen. Thomas Carper [D, DE] interrupted to say that the Republicans had put a hold on the hearing. Click through for the video, the testimony, and news coverage ::

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Congress Links

March 23, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Even though the war over health care is virtually over, one final battle in the Senate has just begun. After the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) was signed into law, the Senate today started consideration on the reconciliation fix (H.R.4872) to the bill. For more on the ongoing health care debate and some other odds and ends you might have missed, check out today's edition of Congress Links.

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We've been tracking the health care reform bill for more than a year on OpenCongress, but today our coverage of the bill takes a sharp turn. The health care bill, H.R. 3590, is Public Law No: 111-148. President Obama signed the bill into law this morning at 11:20 eastern, officially putting an end to the legislative process and transferring it into the process of being implemented by the states and the federal government. We'll be continuing to cover health care reform as it takes effect and the public debate evolves.

To clarify, the Senate is still working on finalizing an amendment to the health care bill, known as the Reconciliation Act of 2010, but regardless of whether that passes, health care reform has been entered in the Federal Register and will begin taking effect immediately. Here's a quick roundup of handy links.

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President Obama will hold a signing ceremony for the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) today in the east room of the White House at 11:15 am. Watch it live here.

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GOP Reconciliation Objection Thrown Out

March 23, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The GOP yesterday was handed the first defeat in what is likely to be a series of battles over the reconciliation health care bill (H.R.4872) when the Senate parliamentarian threw out a Republican challenge to the bill.

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The budget reconciliation circus we've been blogging about for months begins in earnest today.

According to the Democrats' calendar, the Senate convenes at 2:15 p.m. ET and will immediately start debating the Reconciliation Act of 2010. The bill contains about 120 pages of fixes to the health care bill -- reconciling differences between the versions of health acre passed by the Senate and House -- plus some unrelated legislation to end a program that subsidizes student loan companies.  This is the bill that was passed by the House on Sunday night right after they passed health care reform.

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Obama's Health Care

March 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The health care bill that is going to be signed into law tomorrow requires all Members of Congress and congressional staffers to ditch their cushy Federal Employee Health Benefits insurance plans and buy insurance on the new health care exchanges. They would have the same insurance options available to them as everyone else in the individual insurance market. Sen. Charles Grassley [R, IA] wants to add a similar requirement for President Obama, Vice President Biden, the cabinet and top White House staff.

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Congress Links

March 22, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Legislating doesn't get much more exciting than this. In the House, 219 Democrats banded together and over the unanimous objection of House Republicans, cast a historic vote Sunday night to enact the most sweeping health care legislation in decades. But the drama isn't over yet. President Obama is expected to sign the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) into law tomorrow morning and Senate Democrats are hoping to pass a package of changes (H.R.4872) to the bill this week through budget reconciliation. For more on what the health care reform will mean to you and to Washington, check out today's web roundup.

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How They Voted on Health Care Reform

March 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As I reported last night, the House of Representative passed the final vote needed to send health care reform to President Obama to be signed into law. The bill was approved with a handful of votes to spare, even though no Republicans ended up voting in favor. Here's a more detailed look at how lawmakers of the House voted.

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On a party-line vote of 219-212, the House of Representatives has passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that fulfills President Obama's goals of reducing health care costs, increasing choices for consumers and guaranteeing access to quality, affordable insurance for all Americans. The bill has already passed the Senate and will be sent to President Obama immediately to be signed into law.

"At a time when pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics," President Obama said after the vote. "This is what change looks like."

The bill is widely considered the biggest domestic policy achievement by any President or session of Congress since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law 45 years ago, creating Medicare.

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The Stupak Deal

March 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Rep. Bart Stupak [D, MI-1], the pro-life Democrat who has elevated himself to the level of health care reform gatekeeper by withholding his vote and those of his acolytes over concerns with the bill's abortion language, has struck a deal with the Democrats and will now vote "yes." Stupak's vote basically assures that the bill will pass today.

The deal is that President Obama has promised to issue an executive order stating that the law's current restriction on federal funds being used for elective abortions will be upheld as the health care bill is implemented. The full executive order that Obama will issue can be read at TPM.

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Your Guide to the House Health Care Vote

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After more than 13 hours and 80 amendments later, the Rules Committee adjourned on Saturday night with a rule in place to allow the House of Representatives to debate and vote Sunday on the health care bill and the package of fixes in the reconciliation bill. As announced earlier in the day, there will be no "deem and pass" straegy employed. The health care bill and the reconciliation bill conatining the "fixes" will get straight up-or-down votes.

In total, it's expected that there will be seven votes held throughout the day. Two on the rule, two on budget points of order, one on a Republican motion to recommit, and one each on the two bills that will be voted on. All of the votes will require a simple majority of 216 "ayes" to pass. All the action is expected to start at about 1 p.m. ET. Here's your guide to Sunday's floor debate as the Democrats take this monumental step towards finalizing Congress and President Obama's health care reform effort.

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