(H. Res. 766) A bill to maintain the 2010 premium payments, for the portion of Medicare that covers physicians? services, home health care services, and many outpatient services, at their 2009 levels - - on a resolution permitting the House to debate the bill under procedures that would not allow amendments to be offered to it
H.R. 3631, The Medicare Premium Fairness Act, would maintain the 2010 premium payments for Medicare Part B at their 2009 levels. Medicare Part B is the portion of Medicare that covers physicians’ services, home health care services, and many outpatient services. H.R. 3631 was drafted in response to the fact that the Medicare Part B premium was scheduled to increase although social security payments to seniors were not scheduled to increase. Under usual House rules, Members may offer amendments to any bill that is being debated. This resolution would allow the House to suspend its usual rules and consider H.R. 3631 under terms that would not permit any amendments.
The bill to maintain the premium payments at their 2009 levels had bipartisan support. However, the question of whether to consider the legislation under terms that did not permit amendments was controversial. The Republican minority had been complaining since the beginning of the congressional session about what they claimed were unfair tactics used by the Democratic majority in limiting the ability of Members to offer amendments. The minority argued that this ability was an essential right of every Member in his or her capacity of representing constituents. Those objections had become particularly intense during the previous few months, when a series of spending bills had been debated under terms that restricted the number of amendments that Members could offer.
Rep. Matsui (D-CA) was leading the effort on behalf of the resolution permitting the bill to be considered without amendments. She argued that the resolution would allow the House “to consider time-sensitive legislation under an expedited process to shield millions of Medicare beneficiaries from harmful premium increases for the coming year.” Matsui also argued “that inaction is not an option (and) . . . now is the worst possible moment to saddle our seniors with increased premiums.”
Matsui cited the support for H.R. 3631 from the AARP, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, and the Alliance for Retired Americans, and argued: “(B)y acting quickly and decisively on today's bill, we underscore our commitment to preserve Medicare for millions of people . . . But we do not have much time to act . . The (rules) suspension authority . . . will allow the House to move quickly and decisively to move this fix over to the Senate. The sooner we have this bill on the President's desk, the better off millions of Medicare beneficiaries will be.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) was leading the opposition to the resolution that prohibited amendments from being offered to the Medicaid bill. He first agreed that the combination of no social security increase and an increase in Medicare Part B “would leave seniors with less income next year if Congress does not act. So I support the underlying legislation.” He added, however, that: “(A)lthough I support the . . . legislation . . . I have reservations with the process the majority is proposing today.” Diaz-Balart then referenced a statement by a Democratic member of the House Rules Committee, who he said, referred to the process of suspending the rules in the manner proposed as being “outside the normal parameters of the way the House should conduct its business. It effectively curtails our rights and responsibilities as serious legislators.''
Diaz-Balart went on to say: “The reason members of the majority previously opposed rules such as this is because they block Members from offering amendments . . . That is a very important procedural vehicle. Yet today, the majority considers this process to be completely legitimate. So it's interesting how they thought it was wrong when they were in the minority, but once in the majority, it's a fine process.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 235-182. All two hundred and thirty-five “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Ten other Democrats joined all one seventy-two Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the bill designed to mitigate the impact of the increased Medicare Part B premiums on senior citizens was allowed to be debated without permitting members to offer amendments to it.