Following passage of a one-thousand-page omnibus spending bill, the Senate reconvened to continue consideration of HR 3590, the Senate health bill.

Middle Class Taxes. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) offered an amendment to recommit the Senate health bill back to the Senate Finance Committee with instructions to protect Americans who make less than $250,000 from tax hikes in the bill. In effect, the Crapo amendment would reinforce President Obama’s high-profile promise that Americans making less than $250,000 would not face tax increases.

In the Senate health bill, there are several provisions that would impose either a direct or indirect tax on people of all incomes, such as the tax on high-cost health insurance plans, the premium tax on insurance companies, the medical device tax and the pharmaceutical tax. Economists know, of course, that such taxes are passed-on to consumers. Nonetheless, the Crapo motion to recommit was defeated by a vote of 45-54.

In a related action, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) offered a non-binding Sense of the Senate to reject any motion that would raise taxes on middle-class families and small businesses. The problem with the Baucus amendment is that a Sense of the Senate is not binding and has no legal weight. To put it charitably, it is meaningless. Nonetheless, Sen. Baucus’ amendment passed by a vote of 97-1.

Drug Re-Importation. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) offered an amendment to allow Americans to purchase Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -approved medicines from foreign countries. As a result of this change in law, Dorgan claimed that Americans – especially seniors – would have access to more affordable drugs. This is an old and recurrent issue. Analysts at The Heritage Foundation argue, however, that drug re-importation would have little effect on overall drug costs in America and would also likely increase the costs of drugs in foreign countries. While drug importation would seem like a “quick fix” to decrease the cost of health care, it would have unintended consequences. Sen. Dorgan’s amendment failed by a vote of 51-48.

In a related action, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) offered an amendment that would have required that Health and Human Services (HHS) certify all imported drugs and guarantee their safety. Sen. Lautenberg’s amendment also failed.

Authors: Kisa Smith with Robert Moffit