Bush Injects Veto Threat Into Patients' Debate

June 22, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) ? The Senate spent Thursday arguing over amendments to the McCain-Kennedy Patients' Bill of Rights bill ? while President Bush issued a preemptive "strike" of his own against the bill in its current form.
By PS

The Senate began the day of a similar mind, voting 98 ? 0 to proceed to consideration of amendments to S. 1052, the Kennedy-McCain proposal. But it didn’t take long for the battle lines to form.

Bush’s “threat” came in the form of a written “Statement of Administration Principle” issued by the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday, which was subsequently read aloud on the Senate floor by Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas), a co-sponsor of the amendment:”The president will veto the bill unless significant changes are made to address his major concerns.”

Amendment Debate

Much of the day’s discussion involved an amendment from Senator Hutchinson that would allow the self-employed to deduct their health insurance costs fully starting Jan. 1, a year earlier than the current schedule.

However, the inclusion of that amendment brought with it revenue implications, which would have required additional deliberations and approvals. Supporters of S. 1052, led by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), accused the amendment’s champions of co-opting a provision they cut out of the tax relief bill just weeks ago to deliberately delay passage.

Senator Durbin challenged the sincerity of support for the amendment offered by Senator Hutchinson, which would provide for 100% deductibility of health insurance by self-employed workers. Durbin maintained that the provision ? included in the Senate version of the $1.35 trillion tax bill ? was removed by a conference committee more interested in passing a tax bill for the rich.

Bait-and-Switch

Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas made an impassioned case for the need to closely scrutinize a bill that he repeatedly characterized as a “bait and switch”, using lawyerly misdirects to suggest that the bill did not do things it really does (such as permit suits against employers), while at the same time claiming to do things it really couldn’t (protect patient’s rights, while at the same time likely resulting in fewer workers having coverage). Those concerned about the impact on employer coverage repeatedly cited statistics that as many as 1.2 million Americans would lose health coverage.

Gramm, an ex-professor, also took his colleagues through a step-by-step comparison of Texas’ patients’ bill of rights with the wording in S. 1052. McCain-Kennedy supporters have drawn positive comparisons between their proposal and the Texas bill. However, Gramm claims that while the Texas version specifically excludes employers from liability, S. 1052 leaves the door open for such actions under a number of situations.

There was a surreal period when Senator Hillary Clinton presided over the Senate ? as several senators took the floor drawing negative comparisons between the McCain-Kennedy bill and the Clinton healthcare proposal rejected in 1994.

Eventually, the amendment failed when Democrats raised a procedural “point of order” that passed 52 ? 45.   Republican Sens. McCain, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island joined the Democrats in defeating the measure.  

The Senate will continue debate on the bill tomorrow, and pick up an amendment sponsored by Senator McCain on access to clinical trials. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) continues to threaten to cancel the Fourth of July recess in order to finalize the bill.

In the House, the Republican leadership is currently working on shoring up support for their new proposal, which reportedly allows liability suits to be pursued in state court after

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