Monday, November 23, 2009

Alaska U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski And Mark Begich Split Their Cloture Vote On The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act

Alaska's U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich split their votes on November 21st, 2009, when the U.S. Senate voted 60-39 to cut off the possibility of a filibuster and proceed with debate on their version of Obamacare, entitled The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Senate needed exactly 60 votes to prevent filibuster, and got them. The vote proceeded along party lines. The 58 Democrats and two Independents voted in favor, while 39 of the 40 Republicans, voted against it. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) chose not to vote. As expected, Mark Begich voted with the Democrats, while Lisa Murkowski voted with the Republicans. Read the full roll call vote HERE.

The title of the vote was "On the Cloture Motion (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to H.R. 3590)". What will happen is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Act is to be appended onto H.R. 3590 as an amendment. You can read the full 2,074 page text on OpenCongress.org (loads very slowly), or you can read the text on Democrats.Senate.gov (loads faster), or read it on the CNN website. The House approved its version of the bill, then known as H.R. 3962, on November 8th on a near party line vote of 220-215; Congressman Don Young voted against it. Read a summary of the key differences between the two bills HERE.

After the vote, Senator Murkowski immediately posted her objection on her official website, characterizing the bill as "government-run health care that will raise taxes on individuals, families and small businesses, increase health insurance premiums and cut Medicare by a half trillion dollars". She also decried the Senate Democrats' tactics of substituting a "shell bill" in place of the actual bill itself, and warns that the Democrats will now place the "real" bill up for debate.

In contrast, Senator Begich waited until November 23rd to post his explanation on his official website, to allow time for his handlers to tell him how to best spin it. While Begich does support radical socialist-driven health care reform, his primary motive for voting Yes on cloture was to get the debate going. "With health care costs rising every day and 133,000 Alaskans without health insurance, we owe it to the public to fully debate and discuss the health reform legislation," Begich said. "A vote against the motion to proceed is a vote to defend the status quo and protect the insurance industry. That makes no sense to me."

But the Anchorage Daily News reports that neither Begich nor Murkowski plan to vote for the health bill as it is currently written. Both say the public option will not survive the debate and will not end up in the final version. But while Begich said the proposal merely needs to be tweaked through an amendment process that should begin when senators return from their Thanksgiving recess, Murkowski basically thinks the whole bill sucks from the bottom up, reiterating her arguments that it would raise taxes, hurt small businesses and fail to lower insurance costs.

Unfortunately, neither Senator seems to object to the idea of forcing all people to buy health insurance. That is the one part of the bill with which I have the biggest problem. As reported in CNSNews, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that it was “not constitutionally sound” for Congress to mandate that individuals buy health insurance. And in an analysis published this July, the CBO said that an attempt to justify a mandate that people buy health insurance by using the Commerce Clause — which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the several states — raises a novel issue. “Whether such a requirement would be constitutional under the Commerce Clause is perhaps the most challenging question posed by such a proposal, as it is a novel issue whether Congress may use this clause to require an individual to purchase a good or a service,” said the CBO. This means that if the health bill passes with such a mandate, it would be immediately subjected to a court challenge, which could delay implementation almost indefinitely. The Christian Science Monitor also editorially challenges the notion of a mandate.

Comparing health insurance with auto insurance in this context is invalid. One can legally evade auto insurance by not owning a vehicle and not driving. But the only way one could legally evade mandatory health insurance is by not breathing - not a very viable option. Removing the mandate and the public option from this health care bill should be the two highest priorities to grow out of the impending debate.

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