CBO is out with its rough estimates of the Senate Finance bill as it looks now, following the amendments made during the recent markup hearings. Here's my initial take, informed loosely by a few conversations with experts and insiders: The good news, substantively and politically, is that CBO expects the measure would reduce budget deficits by $81 billion over the next decade and by even larger sums in the following decade.
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to deliver its final estimates on the Senate Finance Committee's bill sometime in the afternoon. And while most of the chatter so far has been about the measure's cost, pay close attention to the other side of the equation: How many people it covers. The House and Senate HELP bills reached about 95 percent of Americans (that is, 95 percent of legal residents) and a lesser percentage of total residents. The bill Max Baucus originally put forward didn't reach quite as many people.
President Obama and his allies in Congress are doing everything they can to rally 60 senators behind health care reform. But, for one red-state senator, even 60 "yes" votes won't do. It has to be 65. "I think anything less than that would challenge its legitimacy," he said in late September. It's a ludicrously high standard for passage--the sort you'd expect from a Republican opponent. But this comment came from Democrat Ben Nelson.
Democrat Charles Schumer has been a vocal advocate for the public insurance option and, more generally, among his party’s most effective public spokesmen on health care. Republican Olympia Snowe, despite considerable pressure from GOP leadership, has worked diligently to find a compromise both she and her Democratic counterparts can support in good faith.
Sometime soon, maybe this week,* the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote on the health care reform bill it spent the last two weeks debating. Inside and outside the committee, people following this process more closely than I am say the bill is likely to pass. But it's not yet a sure thing. The committee roster is thirteen Democrats, ten Republicans. Majority vote rules. Chairman Max Baucus can afford to lose one Democrat, even if all of the committee Republicans vote against it.
Ten years from now, if health care reform is a boondoggle, you might be able to trace that failure back to a decision in the wee hours of last week's Senate Finance Committee hearings. It happened on Thursday night, just before midnight, when John Kerry put forward an amendment. It was amendment C-8: "Empowering State Exchanges to be Prudent Purchasers." The title may sound innocuous, if a bit arcane.
Bill Frist, the heart transplant surgeon turned senator, didn't always distinguish himself as a man of principle when serving as Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007.
You know that saying, about how it’s better to be right than popular? Senator Ron Wyden does. As it’s become increasingly clear that the Wyden’s Healthy Americans Act would not be the basis for reform, he has concentrated on promoting one of its central elements: Choice. All of the bills moving through committee would set up insurance exchanges, through which people could choose from among regulated, quality health plans. But only individuals buying insurance on their own and some small businesses could use the exchanges.
The latest wrinkle in the public option debate (via Politico initially) is a proposal that comes from Senator Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat that sits on the Finance committee. According to the proposal's latest draft, which Carper's staff is circulating but--I'm told--Carper himself is not really hawking yet, the idea is to let states set up their own alternative coverage options. Those options include starting a non-profit co-operative, opening up the benefits plan for state employees, or, yes, starting a real public plan. There's no trigger, at least in the document I've seen.
When California's effort at health reform fell apart two years ago, Jordan Rau saw it first-hand, as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Now Rau is in Washington, following the reform debate for Kaiser Health News. And the plot line is starting to seem awfully familiar: In 2007, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed covering the state’s 6.5 million uninsured residents through a plan similar to the one Massachusetts had deployed the previous year.