Senate GOP force vote for cuts to home health care

WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Republicans forced Democrats to vote in favor of cutting billions from providers of home care for older people as partisan debate flared Saturday during a rare weekend session on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Obama planned to travel to Capitol Hill today to help Democrats resolve internal disputes that stand in the way of Majority Leader Harry Reid bringing the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion legislation to a vote.

Ahead of his visit, Republicans, bent on making Democrats cast politically risky votes, offered their third amendment in the debate so far showcasing more than $400 billion in cuts to projected Medicare spending that would pay for the bill, mostly for subsidies to help extend coverage to millions of uninsured.

Like the other two, this one went down to defeat, on a vote of 53 to 41. The measure by Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., would have eliminated $42 billion in cuts over 10 years to agencies that provide home health care to seniors under Medicare.

Four moderate Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the amendment: Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

But Democrats didn't want to let the Republican amendment go unanswered, so Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., offered an amendment stating that the bill would not reduce guaranteed home health benefits. It passed 96-0.

"They're busy talking about the cuts when this actually improves what Medicare beneficiaries are going to get," said Kerry, referring to new preventive services and other items in the bill.


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