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October 2, 2014

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Health care reform meets Viagra amendment as fix-it bill is focus

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AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid greets guests on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 24, 2010, following a health care reform news conference.

WASHINGTON -- Let the great Viagra debate in Congress begin.

Now that health care reform has been signed into law, the Senate has turned its attention to passing the fix-it bill -- the follow-up legislation passed by the House that makes several changes to the original bill President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

Debate is under way now on these changes -- eliminating the Cornhusker Kickback, increasing the subsidies to help the uninsured buy insurance and offering seniors $250 toward prescription drugs.

Yet, the reconciliation process allows an unlimited amount of amendments and Republicans have vowed to take advantage of this opening.

Republicans want to make this final step in health care reform as uncomfortable as possible, and have introduced a long list of amendments that would change the law even further -- changes Democrats will try to resist.

Swatting back these Republican overtures could be tough. Senate Republicans intend to put Democrats on the spot with politically tricky votes.

Hence, the Viagra amendment. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has offered an amendment that would prohibit child molesters and rapists from receiving subsidies for health insurance coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs.

As enticing as these amendments may be, Democrats are hoping to hold tough, and vote against any and all Republican amendments.

If any changes are made to the reconciliation bill, the legislation would need to return to the House for another vote -- a step Democrats are trying to avoid.

In addition to the Viagra amendment, Republicans have offered amendments to eliminate remaining special favors in the bill, enroll members of Congress in Medicaid and protect the rights of states to opt out of the legislation.

Democrats seem unlikely to have any amendments of their own. This morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cut debate short on his side of the aisle, yielding the seven hours of time remaining for Democrats and leaving Republicans to run out the clock. They had eight hours left.

As soon as the debate time is up, the great voting spectacle will begin -- a process called vote-o-rama because of the rapid-fire method with which amendments are introduced, debated and voted on in a matter of minutes.

Expect a long night.

But when it was done, the long health care debate will be closer to its ending.

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