A Republican senator asserted Tuesday during a rancorous floor debate that President Barack Obama's health care overhaul will shorten the lives of America's seniors by cutting Medicare.
"I have a message for you: You're going to die sooner," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an obstetrician-turned-lawmaker.
A senior Democrat decried such comments as scare tactics designed to kill legislation that he said would improve some benefits for seniors. At times, the debate recalled the raw charges and countercharges of the summer's town hall meetings.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., defended the health care legislation, saying it would make Medicare a smarter buyer and improve prescription coverage and preventive benefits for seniors.
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber would vote this week to permanently extend the estate tax rates scheduled to expire at the end of 2009, but the road will be tougher in the Senate.
The House will take up a bill introduced last week by Democrat Earl Pomeroy to extend the current policy of taxing estates over a $3.5 million threshold at a rate of 45 percent.
"We believe that a permanent extension of the existing law is the best policy," Steny Hoyer, the chamber's majority leader, told reporters.
Preserving the current rates will be harder in the U.S. Senate because that body's rules require a way to pay for it.
Democrats called it a historic opportunity. Republicans called it a sham.
Long-awaited debate over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul kicked off in the Senate with lawmakers trading bitter partisan words over the measure to remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy.
The legislative struggle is expected to last for weeks in a test that pits GOP senators determined not to give ground against Senate Democrats determined to deliver on Obama's signature issue.
The 10-year, nearly $1 trillion legislation includes a first-time requirement for most Americans to carry insurance, greatly expands the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for the poor, and would require insurers to cover any paying customer regardless of their medical history or condition.
Senator Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he will not vote to reconfirm Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, in a preview of the rough treatment Bernanke may get this week on Capitol Hill.
The central bank chief will testify on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing on his nomination to a second four-year term. The session could be difficult, with the Fed under fire from across the political spectrum.
Leading Democrats on Sunday said they expect Congress to pass a major healthcare reform backed by President Barack Obama, but supporters may have to accept legislation that falls short on some issues.
The U.S. Senate on Monday is set to begin debate on the sweeping overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system amid growing concerns about the cost of the legislation that aims to provide medical coverage for millions of the uninsured.
"We want to cover the uninsured, yes, but we don't want to do it in a way that's going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it," said Senator Evan Bayh, one of a number of centrist Democrats whose support will be crucial to pass the overhaul in the face of solid Republican opposition.
The 60 votes aren't there any more.
With the Senate set to begin debate Monday on health care overhaul, the all-hands-on-deck Democratic coalition that allowed the bill to advance is fracturing.
Some Democratic senators say they'll jump ship without tighter restrictions on abortion coverage. Others say they'll go unless a government plan to compete with private insurance companies gets tossed. Such concessions would enrage liberals, the heart and soul of the party.
There's no clear course for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to steer legislation through Congress to President Barack Obama. You can't make history unless you reach 60 votes, and don't count on Republicans helping him.
President Barack Obama is paying a price for a recession that began before he took office, and fellow Democrats have started to balk at his legislative agenda and demand greater efforts to create jobs.
Some liberal Democrats even want Obama to replace his economic team while moderates fear his bid to overhaul healthcare and stem global warming -- two top priorities -- may mean more fiscal hard times, at least in the short term.
In one sign of the angst on Capitol Hill, a group of black Democratic lawmakers last week temporarily blocked a bill to tighten financial regulation, another Obama priority, signaling they believe more help is urgently needed for the unemployed.
"There's a lot of anxiety among Democrats," said Anne Mathias of Concept Capital Washington Research Group, a private firm that analyzes Congress for institutional investors.
Invoking the memory of Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats united Saturday night to push historic health care legislation past a key Senate hurdle over the opposition of Republicans eager to inflict a punishing defeat on President Barack Obama. There was not a vote to spare.
The 60-39 vote cleared the way for a bruising, full-scale debate beginning after Thanksgiving on the legislation, which is designed to extend coverage to roughly 31 million who lack it, crack down on insurance company practices that deny or dilute benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally.
The spectator galleries were full for the unusual Saturday night showdown, and applause broke out briefly when the vote was announced. In a measure of the significance of the moment, senators sat quietly in their seats, standing only when they were called upon to vote.
Republicans are seizing on this week's recommendations for fewer Pap smears and mammograms to fuel concern about government-rationed medical care — and to try to chip away support by women for President Barack Obama's proposed health care overhaul.
"This is how rationing starts," declared Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party's second-in-command in the Senate, during a news conference. "This is what we're going to expect in the future."
Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: "Those recommendations will be used by the insurance companies as they make a determination as to what they're going to cover."
A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president's prestige.
Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote "yes," and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.