Slate examines the GOP amendments to a Senate health care bill.

How to fix health policy.
July 16 2009 7:29 PM

This Is What "Bipartisanship" Looks Like

What do the GOP amendments to this Senate health care bill actually say?

Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Sen. Ted Kennedy

When the Senate health, education, labor, and pensions committee passed its health care bill Wednesday, the Obama administration hailed it as a "bipartisan" effort. No matter that it passed the panel on a strictly party-line vote, with all 13 Democrats voting for and all 10 Republicans voting against. It was bipartisan, administration officials explained, because it contained 160 Republican amendments. Republican senators said that characterization was absurd. After all, they said, most of the 160 amendments were technical, rather than substantive, changes. Lisa Murkowsi of Alaska told the New York Times that, while it was "pretty impressive" that 20 of her amendments were accepted, "they were all technical."

Who's right? There's no real way to resolve this debate without examining the content of these amendments, and the committee has yet to officially release them. But a Senate Republican source sent Slate a summary of many of the amendments, with a short description of each. (Download the Excel file here.) Disclaimer: This is an incomplete list. Of the 788 amendments filed, only 437 appear here. And of the 161 GOP amendments passed or accepted, we have confirmed only 80 as such. We hope to update the document as more information becomes available.

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That said, some context: Of the 788 amendments filed, 67 came from Democrats and 721 from Republicans. (That disparity drew jeers that Republicans were trying to slow things down. Another explanation may be that they offered so many so they could later claim—as they are now, in fact, claiming—that most of their suggestions went unheeded.) Only 197 amendments were passed in the end—36 from Democrats and 161 from Republicans. And of those 161 GOP amendments, Senate Republicans classify 29 as substantive and 132 as technical.

Yet many of the GOP amendments on this incomplete list do seem pretty substantive. For example, one amendment offered by Oklahoma's Tom Coburn requires members of Congress and their staff to enroll in the government-run health insurance program. Another, sponsored by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, would "establish an auto advisory council to make recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury regarding how best to represent the taxpayers of the United States as the majority owner of General Motors." An amendment written by North Carolina's Richard Burr requires that "a private plan would be exempt from any federal or state requirement related to quality improvement and reporting if the community health insurance option is not subject to the specific requirement."

The list goes on. An amendment from Mike Enzi of Wyoming promises "to protect pro-patient plans and prevent rationing." Another of his would "prohibit the government run plan from limiting access to end of life care." An amendment from New Hampshire's Judd Gregg "requires all savings associated with follow-on biologics to go towards deficit reduction."

There are some technical-seeming amendments, too. For example, an amendment from Burr (which was accepted) says, "On line 23 after 'groups' insert 'and reduces the cost of health care.' " Another amendment, proposed by Coburn, "[d]efines [the] average work week as 40 hours."

Again: We're working with limited information here. The summaries are vague. There's no accounting yet for the other 80 or so Republican amendments that were included in the legislation. But in this sampling, at least, it appears that a good portion of the GOP amendments offered were substantive (which, of course, is hardly a criticism). Whether that makes the bill "bipartisan" is a separate question.

Got more details? Let us know.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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