MEDICARE IMPROVEMENTS FOR PATIENTS AND PROVIDERS ACT--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 09, 2008)
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Mr. SPECTER. Madam President, this Medicare legislation is very important. 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, the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, 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 other Senators and me to offer amendments to such a bill is more favorable than filling the amendment tree.
On June 26, 2008, the majority leader brought up H.R. 6331. The posture of the Senate was such that for the majority leader to complete action on H.R. 6331 and send it to the President before the physician payment reduction was 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 went out of session, there was no possibility for the House to consider a Senate-amended Medicare bill. To guarantee that the same Medicare legislation would 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. The majority leader was aware of this issue for some time and scheduling should have accommodated the amendment process. I voted against cloture because there was no opportunity to amend the legislation that came before the Senate.
On June 28, 2008, I wrote to President Bush requesting that he use his constitutional authority to call the Congress back into session so that the Senate could act on H.R. 6331 with appropriate amendments and send it back to the House for its concurrence. This would have allowed for prompt action on this important matter and prevented the payment reduction from going into effect.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I spoke with Majority Leader Reid regarding today's vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 6331. During those conversations I requested that he allow Senators to offer amendments to the legislation. On those occasions he said he would not allow amendments. During the vote, when more than 60 Senators had voted for cloture, it was not possible to preserve the principle of Senators' rights to offer amendments so I voted for cloture because I agreed with the objectives of this legislation.
I have a strong history of preventing reduced payments to physicians. In April 2003, as Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee; I worked to reverse a 4.4 percent cut in physician fees which had gone into effect in January of that year. This $54 billion effort also provided a 1.6 percent increase. In June 2003, I introduced an amendment to the Medicare Modernization Act to provide an increase in physician payments for 2 years. This provision was agreed to and was included in the bill. This prevented decreases in physician payments in 2004 and 2005, and increased payments by 1.5 percent in each of those years. I have consistently voted in favor of increasing Medicare physician payments and will continue to support the policy, but Senators must be allowed to offer amendments and let the Senate work its will.
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