Posted by: danielrashke | September 16, 2009

Beginning to Move

Yesterday, I talked about the Senate Finance Committee getting close to releasing its version of the healthcare reform bill.  (See my post from September 15, 2009 for more detail.)  The latest word is that Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is scheduled to introduce his health care reform bill at noon today. The bill is the product of months of negotiations by the bipartisan “Gang of Six” and carries a price tag of approximately $880 billion.  Besides requiring individuals to buy insurance, it will contain a non-profit co-op component instead of a public option, and it will pay for itself with a combination of fees and spending cuts from within the healthcare system.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has stated he would like to have healthcare on the floor on Monday, September 28.

Now, as we wait for that release, word comes from Washington that the Obama Administration will be making two announcements today.  First, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius, Director of White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas will announce a Medicare demonstration project in which the states will test practices in the program to improve the quality of care.  Second, Secretary Sebelius will release data on the uninsured based on the most recent census data and broken down by state. The White House also will be speaking about the Senate Finance Committee bill that will be introduced today.

Despite months of bipartisan negotiations the bill is unlikely to have any Republican support. Several ranking Republicans, including members of the Gang of Six, have stated that they are unlikely to sign off on the bill for now.  That’s not the only challenge that Senator Baucus faces; indeed Committee Democrats are complaining publicly about the bill, as well.  Committee members of both parties are developing amendments and strategies for next week’s mark-up.  And on top of all that, several industries have concerns as well; insurance companies, clinical labs and medical device makers oppose the fees in the bill (described as “pay-fors”).

While the Senate Finance Committee bill represents the best chance for 60 votes in the Senate, Chairman Baucus has a tough political situation on his hands. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) are under tremendous pressure from Senate Republican leadership to refrain from signing onto the Baucus bill, making it harder for Baucus to obtain Republican support. The lack of Republican support strengthens Senate and House liberals’ argument that the Chairman delayed progress for months, all the while going after Republican support that was never going to exist, and that leadership should move to pass a bill that satisfies the left.  But Chairman Baucus has two trump cards.  First, the bill is likely to be supported by the 17 moderate Democrats whose support is necessary to pass a bill through the Senate.  And second, the White House has sent clear and strong signals that it supports the Senate Finance Committee bill, which may ease liberal opposition.

Things are beginning to move.  I will make a new post later today after we have an opportunity to review the Senate Finance Committee’s bill.


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