On December 19, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) secured a commitment from the last waivering member of his caucus, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), and subsequently overcame a series of Republican filibuster attempts to block passage of his health care reform legislation. After a whirlwind three weeks of floor debate, the vote for final passage occured early in the morning on Christmas Eve, clearing the way for the House- and Senate-passed bills to be merged together before being sent to the President's desk.
While nothing has been formally announced, RILA understands that discussions between House and Senate Democratic leaders are already underway to conference together the health care reform bills. There are significant differences between the two pieces of legislation, particularly for large employers, and RILA will be monitoring these discussions closely. What this means for the immediate future is that a final bill is not expected until at least the third week in January. Rather, negotiators will aim to complete their discussions and pass a conference report detailing the changes agreed to by both chambers so that the President can sign a health care reform bill before his State of the Union address in mid-January 2010.
It is important to bear in mind that this conference negotiation, unlike what we typically see, is expected to be a highly sensitive and political process. Therefore, much like the bill drafting, most decisions will be made behind closed doors by a select few individuals and legislative priorities will be heavily influenced by what leaders believe can pass in both chambers. In anticipation of changes, Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Jim Webb (D-VA) say that they will vote against the conference report if it is significantly altered to look more like the House bill.
RILA Opposes Senate Health Bill
Despite months of good faith efforts to offer constructive assistance to crafting a bill that could reduce the cost of and increase access to health care benefits for millions of Americans, RILA was put in the unfortunate position of having to oppose the Senate health care reform bill. Many of our suggestions and those of others in business community were panned or ignored in the face of detailed information to support them and, as a result, we fear that the final product before us today will only exacerbate the problems we now face, further straining the employer-based system of care and reducing hiring at a critical time in our nation’s economic recovery.