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Weekly Pulse: Senate Prepares to Cast First Votes

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By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The Senate is scheduled to begin voting on proposed amendments to the health care reform bill today. It takes 60 votes to pass an amendment and most of the proposed measures for the health care bill will never pass. It's a great opportunity to grandstand over pet issues, however.

For example, Sen. John McCain wants to eliminate about $500 million in Medicare cost savings, which he's trying to portray as Medicare cuts. In fact, these savings will not result in cuts to benefits. McCain is getting hammered by Democrats for reversing on the Medicare issue. As Nick Baumann reports for Mother Jones, McCain promised to fund health care reform with Medicare savings when he ran for president in 2008. Much of the proposed savings would come from eliminating over-payments to private insurers. As Harry Reid's spokesman told Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo, protecting this revenue stream amounts to "a big fat wet kiss" to McCain's friends in the insurance industry.

Alex Koppelman of Salon reports that conservative Democrat Ben Nelson (D-NE) will try to get a mirror image of the Stupak Amendment added to the Senate bill. As Koppelman observes, it's unlikely that Nelson has the votes.

Even if the controversial, anti-abortion Stupak language stays out of the Senate bill, legislators will have to revisit the issue of federal funding for abortion coverage when the House and the Senate put their respective bills together to form the final legislation.

Roger Bybee of Working In These times reports that the Stupak Amendment has become a major headache for organized labor. Many union leaders see the Stupak Amendment as a wedge issue that is dividing advocates of health care reform within the labor movement. For example, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-MI), one of labor's staunchest allies in the House, voted for the Stupak Amendment.

The Stupak wars have been an opportunity for religious groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to flex their lobbying muscle. If a secular organization wanted to send its staffers to practically camp out in legislators' offices during key floor votes, they'd have to register as lobbyists and disclose how they spend their money. Carol Joffe of RH Reality Check wonders whatever happened to the separation of church and state in the era of lobbying. She makes an important point. Why should lobbyists get special treatment because their fees are paid from collection plates?

Progressives are clamoring for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to use budget reconciliation to thwart a filibuster and pass a health reform bill by majority vote. Alex Koppelman of Salon takes an in-depth look at the procedural obstacles of such a strategy. One of the major sticking points is that budget reconciliation can only be used to pass legislation that has to do with the budget. In order to qualify, the final bill would have to be contorted in various ways that progressives might not like. Koppelman argues that the public option could be a casualty of reconciliation.

In other health-related news, Lincoln University has embraced fat-shaming as a tool for behavioral change. In an effort to curb high rates of obesity among its students, the school has ordered students with a body mass index over 30 to attend 3 hours of gym class per week. If they don't, they can't graduate. Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing characterizes the plan as a form of fat hate. She argues that, like many dieters, Lincoln has lost sight of health in its pursuit of sveltness.

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