Republicans heart healthcare lobbyists

The GOP argues to delay votes on healthcare amendments so lobbyists have a chance to read them

Published September 23, 2009 11:53PM (EDT)

If healthcare reform seems to be bogging down in the Senate Finance Committee, don't worry -- it's by design.

Working on reform legislation Wednesday, the panel spent most of the morning debating an amendment by Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky that would have delayed votes on any other amendments until they were written up in official legislative text. The Congressional Budget Office would then have had to post the language for three days before votes -- which would, effectively, have stalled any progress on the bill for a week or two, at least. There are, after all, more than 500 amendments waiting to be debated and voted on.

The amendment seemed to be an obvious stalling tactic. Still, the GOP couched support for Bunning's proposal in the guise of transparency -- piggybacking on the cries of angry protesters at town halls this summer that lawmakers "read the bill!" before voting on it. But the text of legislation the Finance Committee deals with is more opaque, not more transparent, when it's written in legislative language. The panel's bills usually amend arcane sections of the U.S. Tax Code; if you're not a lawyer, or a lobbyist, it's hard to understand them at all.

Which may actually have been the point. A Democratic source sent along this quote from Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, who may have strayed into a little accidental honesty while defending the amendment:

All the Senator from Kentucky is asking is for 72 hours to determine the cost. Senator Snowe has spoken eloquently about sunshine, and the openness, and the fact that the American people would support this 90 percent, 95 percent. But the thing that I’m trying to point out is we would have at least 72 hours for the people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation that we pass around here, and the regulations that we pass around here, to say “hey, wait a minute. Have you considered this?”

That's right -- what's most important is that the "people that the providers have hired to keep up with all of the legislation," i.e., health insurance lobbyists, have time to stay on top of the game. The Bunning plan was voted down. But still. Either Republicans were trying to delay the bill in order to keep it from building up momentum, or they were trying to delay the bill in order to let the lobbyists work it over. Which one would be worse?

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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