health policy

High drama on the Senate floor!

While I was in New York, stressing over where I’m going to live next year, the Senate was tackling a sliiiiightly more important issue: the Medicare vote.

Act I: The Exposition, or Let’s Screw Doctors
For those of you who didn’t hear, Medicare was set to have a 10.6% reimbursement cut, effective July 1. CMS, which handles claims, said they’d put a hold on processing claims for two weeks until Congress decided whether to delay the cuts, as they have done every year since Time Immemorial. (I learned today that CMS doesn’t process claims for 14 days anyway, so the hold was more semantic than real.)

Act II: The Rising Action, or Let’s Put on a Band-Aid (TM)
The House rushed through a bill on June 24 to delay the cuts. (355-59; definitely veto-proof; See how your guy/gal voted.) Following the procedures outlined in Schoolhouse Rock (and, you know, the Constitution), the bill went to the Senate. Given the time crunch, Sen. Reid of Nevada moved to invoke cloture, which meant that the Senate would skip committee, debate, amendment, and the inevitable compromise-with-the-House quagmire and pass or reject the bill in its House form. That motion fell 2 votes short of passage. Not voting were Sens. Kennedy of Massachussetts (understandably) and McCain of Arizona (not so understandably). Here’s the roll call.

Intermission
Then Congress went on a ten-day picnic and the American Medical Association went beserk.

Act III: The Climax, or Let’s Applaud for Two Minutes
On Wednesday, more than a week after the cuts were scheduled to go into effect, the Senate reconsidered cloture. In possibly the most dramatic moment in Senate history since Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner, Sen. Kennedy arrived, specifically to vote in favor of cloture. He flew back to MA for more chemo directly afterwards. But thanks to his appearance, the hard work of the AMA and AARP, and plenty of grassroots pushing, the motion passed, 69-30. Again, a veto-proof majority. Again, Sen. McCain did not vote.

Act IV: ?, or What You Will
Bush has repeatedly threatened to veto the bill. Schoolhouse Rock (I mean, the Constitution!) says the president can sit on the bill for 10 business days before deciding what to do. Probably he will veto it after all, so the veto-proof majority in both houses is an important fact. So important that I spent most of the day today writing to my senators to thank them for their votes in favor of cloture and urging them to continue to support access to care. You should too! There’s a cool new online system accessible at [lastname].senate.gov, so you don’t even have to spend on stamps! And you get automated replies:

Senator Warner is snuggly
Thank you for your email. It is my goal to reply in a timely fashion to every email that I directly receive from a fellow Virginian. I appreciate your views and look forward to responding to you.

Senator Webb is not
Your comments have been submitted.

In any case, it’s all very restorative in the Power of Democracy: Congress CAN do things, grassroots letter-writing and phone calls DO make a difference, legislation DOES affect you, me, and that old guy who sits outside the Metro station and plays the pan pipes.

I think I’ll go home now and watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Sappy enough for you?

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