MEDICARE IMPROVEMENTS FOR PATIENTS AND PROVIDERS ACT OF 2008 -- (Senate - June 27, 2008)
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, this Medicare legislation is a very important bill. I believe that it is vital for the Senate to take up this important measure to have open debate to give Senators an opportunity to offer amendments and to have the Senate work its will on these important questions.
As noted in previous floor statements, I have been concerned about Majority Leader Reid's practice of employing a procedure known as filling the tree, which precludes Senators from offering amendments. This undercuts the basic tradition of the Senate to allow Senators to offer amendments. Regrettably, this has been a practice developed in the Senate by majority leaders on both sides of the aisle, so both Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
On June 12, 2008, I voted in favor of cloture on the motion to proceed on S.3101, legislation similar to H.R. 6331, to prevent the reduction in Medicare payments to physicians. At that time, I was assured by Majority Leader Reid that he would not make a procedural motion to fill the tree. Following the failure to obtain cloture on the motion to proceed to S.3101, Finance Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley began to negotiate a bipartisan bill that could be brought before the Senate. I have concerns with some provisions that may have been contained in such an agreement. However, the prospect of the Senate working its will and allowing myself and other Senators to offer amendments to such a bill is more favorable than filling the amendment tree.
The posture of the Senate is such that for the Majority Leader to complete action on H.R. 6331 and send it to the President before the physician payment reduction is scheduled to go into effect at the end of June, the Senate must pass the same legislation the House of Representatives passed. This is the case because the House of Representatives adjourned for the Independence Day recess prior to the Senate vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R.6331. Since the House will be out of session, there will be no possibility for the House to consider a Senate amended Medicare bill. To guarantee that the same Medicare legislation will be passed by the Senate, no amendments to the legislation were permitted. By bringing this legislation up at the last minute after the House of Representatives adjourned the Majority Leader prevented the opportunity to offer amendments and undermined Senate procedure.
If cloture were to have been obtained on the motion to proceed to H.R. 6331 the legislation would have been vetoed by President Bush. That veto would have resulted in a further delay, since the House would not be in session to override the veto and the scheduled physician payment reductions would go into effect at the end of June. There was an expectation that the Senate would extend the current physician payment rate for 30 days and prevent the pending reduction from going into effect. However, when this legislative extension was offered by Senate Republican Leader McConnell it was objected to by Majority Leader Reid.
This vote was a crass partisan political exercise. The majority leader has been aware of this issue for some time and scheduling should have accommodated for the amendment process. I have consistently voted in favor of increasing Medicare physician payments and will continue to, but I am not going to vote in favor of cloture when there is no opportunity to amend the legislation that comes before the Senate. I will not submit to procedures that prevent the Senate from performing its traditional duty. This is why I voted against cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 6331. I expect that this very important issue will be taken up as soon as we return from the Independence Day recess so we can correct this grave problem in a manner that allows the Senate to work its will.