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May 22, 2015

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John Ensign absent from Senate floor during health care debate

WASHINGTON -- As senators speak on the Senate floor today to discuss health care reform in a lively, rare Saturday session, one voice that has been absent is that of Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

Ensign had been an active participant as the Senate Finance Committee was debating an earlier version of the bill. He offered several amendments, and a few were accepted in the committee’s final bill.

But Ensign is not recorded in the congressional record as having been on the floor today and he is not scheduled for floor time this evening, according to a tentative line-up from the Republican leadership office.

Ensign’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about his schedule.

On Friday evening, Ensign joined several Republican senators for a colloquy on the floor, where he broke out charts and graphs to support what he believes are the “major problems” with the bill.

Ensign opposes the legislation and is expected to vote against it.

Ensign criticized the bill for its proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage, a form of Medicare that is costlier for the government to provide than traditional Medicare, but popular in Nevada and a few other states.

Ensign also offered Republican-backed alternatives that he said he would support, including medical malpractice reform, an issue Democrats have carefully avoided in both the House or Senate bills.

But mainly, Ensign used his time on the floor Friday to discuss what he identified as the nine new taxes in the Democrats’ health care reform bill: Taxes on high-cost “Cadillac” insurance plans; penalties on individuals and families that go without insurance; penalties on companies that fail to offer insurance to employees; taxes on insurance companies, drug makers, labs and medical device companies; and the new “Botax” on providers of elective cosmetic surgeries.

Quoting the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Ensign said these taxes "would increase costs for the affected firms, which would be passed on to purchasers and would ultimately raise insurance premiums by a corresponding amount."

The argument is a strong one and among the key Republican objections to the Democratic bill. But so far tonight, others are making it.

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