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Republicans Will Seek Health Care Repeal as Amendment to FAA Bill

We found out yesterday that the “gentlemen’s agreement” held for the first vote in the Senate. When Harry Reid sought unanimous consent to debate the FAA authorization bill, Republicans did not object, meaning that they did not force Reid to file a cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Similarly, Reid announced that he would allow an open amendment process for the bill. So it’s a whole new Senate, right?

Well, not quite. See, when Reid announced the open amendment process, he said that he hoped the amendments would be germane to the bill, which is about aviation. So naturally, the Republicans will break the spirit of that and try to attach health care repeal as an amendment.

A Republican measure to repeal the new health care law will be included as an amendment to the first bill the Senate plans to take up this year, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed Tuesday.

The Democrat-controlled Senate plans to take up an authorization measure to fund the Federal Aviation Administration using an open process, which allows any member to offer amendments regardless of whether the proposal is related to the topic of the bill […]

“Anybody can offer an amendment. It can be non-germane, it could be super, super non-germane,” said West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who introduced the FAA bill. “It’s open, it’s transparent, it’s on the floor, you can’t do anything behind closed doors. That’s good for us, as well as good for Republicans.”

Democrats actually welcome this repeal vote, I imagine. They have plans to chop it up into pieces and force votes on repealing popular provisions. Republicans have countered that they’ll force individual votes on unpopular provisions. And so you could have multiple health care votes, on a bill about upgrading the nation’s aviation system.

Senate fixed!

In other health care news, Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso will introduce a state opt-out bill, which actually is a variant on the Wyden-Brown bill, that would accelerate the state-based waiver process from 2017 to 2014. The difference is that, unlike Wyden and Brown’s bill, Graham-Barrasso would eliminate the minimum standards requirement:

The opt-out idea is not unique. The 2010 health care law actually contains a provision that would allow states to exempt themselves from the law’s requirements starting in 2017. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) cosponsored a measure to move that date up to 2014, but that bill has yet to get a vote. In the meantime, Vermont’s congressional delegation has begun the process of using this provision to implement a single-payer system.

What sets Graham and Barrasso apart is that under their approach, states wouldn’t have to institute their own sets of reforms before leaving the federal system. With the current law or the Wyden-Brown alternative, the Health and Human Services secretary could grant a waiver.

“The bill leaves health care decisions up to the states, who understand the health care needs of their people better than Washington,” said Emily Lawrimore, a spokesperson for Barrasso.

“Right now you have to get a waiver from HHS,” said Graham, during a press conference introducing the legislation. “Our bill says you can chart your own destiny. You don’t have to go back to the HHS.”

This would basically repeal the bill state by state and offer no safeguards to residents for a better solution. You’d have the same kind of balkanized approach you see with the minimum wage, Medicaid and other programs, where your vulnerability as an at-risk member of society depends on your physical location.

UPDATE: Senate Democrats will allow that vote on health care repeal tomorrow.

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David Dayen

David Dayen