Darren Samuelsohn dusts off the crystal ball and tries to figure out if the climate bill can garner 60 votes in the Senate. By his count, there are now 67 senators in play—that includes 43 likely "yes" votes (including the two Maine Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins), 17 dithering Dems, and seven Republican fence-straddlers: Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, George Voinovich, Richard Lugar, Judd Gregg, and George LeMieux.
Congress has been formally debating health care reform for almost nine months. And the country, as a whole, has been debating it for years. But now that the last congressional committee with jurisdiction has approved legislation, lawmakers are confronting the essential conundrum that's bedeviled this issue all along: Their desire to expand health insurance coverage exceeds their willingness to pay for it. As deliberations move to the House and Senate floors, then on to conference-committee negotiations, something has to give.
Now, two people will have to choose. The fate of the health care bill is largely in the hands of Barack Obama and Olympia Snowe. The Finance Committee's vote on Tuesday to send its bill to the Senate floor vindicated President Obama's strategy of giving Congress wide latitude to write the early drafts. Major health reform has advanced further than it ever has before. But Obama must now abandon his preference for intervening forcefully only after House and Senate bills go to a conference committee.
And there it is: Fourteeen votes for the Baucus bill, nine against. Maine Republican Olympia Snowe joined the entire Democratic delegation, including Blanche Lincoln, Jay Rockfeller, and Ron Wyden, the Democrats most likely to defect. Just a few weeks ago, the survival of health care reform seemed seriously in doubt. Town halls were turning into riots, Betsy McCaughey was running amok, and President Obama's popularity ratings were sinking. Putting together fifty, let alone sixty, votes for health reform seemed like an awfully tall order. It's still not a done deal.
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, just now before the Senate Finance Committee, said she would vote to move the Baucus bill out of committee. She warned that she still wanted improvements and put down some markers, making clear she won't support a bill that moves substantially in the direction of what the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed. But, she said, "When history calls, history calls." That it does. Is this a good thing? At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein says yes.
Senator Kent Conrad's smack-down of Senator Jim Bunning provided one of the few entertaining episodes in this week's Finance Committee hearings. But another moment during the same debate, one involving Senator Olympia Snowe, deserves some attention, as well. For those who missed it, the debate was over Bunning's proposal that Finance wait for final legislative language before holding its final vote on a health reform bill.
The Senate Finance Committee has just cast its first vote of the day, and the claws are already out. Senator Jim Bunning had an amendment requiring the bill to be translated into legislative language and for the CBO to post a cost estimate based on the new version 72 hours before voting. It's a proposal that would delay the vote by at least 2 or 3 weeks, and opinions divided almost strictly along party lines.
WASHINGTON -- It's time to cast aside the political shorthand and ideological pigeonholing that distort our debates over health care in particular and government's role in American life more broadly. The way words such as "centrist" and "bipartisan" are now deployed turns the discussion away from useful arguments over how various proposals might work and toward arid talk about how ideas fit into prefabricated boxes. The impact of this warping of reality, brought home daily in the health care fight, was dramatized in last week's debate in the House of Representatives over a bill to expand fed
Since the Baucus framework was released last week, there's been an ongoing debate about whether the Finance Committee's final bill will include any significant changes. One area of dispute has been the subsidy cap for uninsured families: Chairman Max Baucus set it at 300 percent above the federal poverty level in his framework (about $66,000 a year for a family of four). But others in the committee--including Olympia Snowe and Jeff Bingaman--have wanted to raise the subsidy cut-off to 400 percent (about $88,000 a year for a family of four).
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus says he will release a health care bill* very soon, maybe in the next 24 hours. And we already have a pretty good idea what it will look like, thanks to an outline Baucus has distributed to the Gang of Six--the bipartisan group with which he’s been trying to hammer out a compromise. Sources inside the Finance Committee say that the formal bill will look a lot like that proposal, with some minor modifications.