Dems Prepare To Kick Off Final Health Care Debate

It’s set to begin Tuesday, after President Obama signs the health care bill into law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring the House-passed reconciliation bill–making crucial amendments to the reform package–to the floor.

At that point the bulk of health care reform will be the law of the land. The reconciliation bill will strengthen some of its provisions, and remove other, more controversial ones. Once the bill comes to the floor, a 20-hour debate clock will begin ticking toward zero. Republicans say they will challenge some of its provisions for violating the reconciliation rules. If their challenges are successful, those provisions will likely be removed (meaning the bill will have to return to the House again).After the 20 hours are over, the Senate will have to dispense with amendment after amendment in a process called vote-a-rama. Democrats say they expect Republicans to offer tons. Most will be poison pills and wedge issues. But some, they say, might be on issues Democrats support–SCHIP, for instance–hoping Democrats will vote their conscience. The strategy, in short, is to change the bill as much as possible, to increase the chances that it can’t pass the House again.

As Josh notes, there’s some reason to think these Republican threats are bluster, and that the process will actually go more smoothly than expected. But already the Republicans are taking steps to gum up the works. At a meeting with Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin, Republican staffers argued that a provision in the reconciliation bill that amends the health care bill’s excise tax should be ruled out of order for violating the Byrd rule. Democrats argued their side of the story and Frumin is expected to weigh in later today.

We’ll soon know whether this is the exception or the rule in this process.