Democrats Take Aim At Deficit Targets, Continue To Wait For CBO Numbers On Health Overhaul
The Wall Street Journal: "With Congress just days away from an expected vote, Democrats still hadn't settled on final language of the bill and until they do the Congressional Budget Office can't release an estimate for how much the complete package would cost." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said yesterday that "he hoped Democratic leaders would be able to lock down final details soon. He said lawmakers have been working closely with the Congressional Budget Office to ensure the bill is fully paid for and reduces the deficit" (Hitt, 3/17).
Bloomberg/Business Week: "They have been going back and forth with CBO officials for days, (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid said. 'It's not as if CBO has been over there waiting to crank up their adding machines,' Reid told reporters. 'They've been giving us numbers all along, trying to come up with a final product. And we expect that soon'" (Rowley and Gaouette, 3/17).
The New York Times: "House Democratic leaders said they still expected the full House to vote on health care by this weekend, even though they are still tinkering with the text of the legislation" and are trying to hold the cost of new insurance coverage provisions to $950 billion over 10 years. "To make the numbers come out right, Democrats said, they are considering bigger cuts in payments to private Medicare Advantage plans, which cover about one-fourth of the 45 million Medicare beneficiaries. And they may ask pharmaceutical companies to pay more to help close a gap in Medicare coverage of prescription drugs" (Herszenhorn and Pear, 3/16).
(Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun Sentinel, with more on the expected cuts to Medicare Advantage plans: "'We've come up with something that we believe is equitable that does phase the payments down but does it in such a way that is not disruptive to beneficiaries who have been getting the extra benefits,' said Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform. DeParle briefed reporters Tuesday about this and other adjustments to health care overhaul legislation that is headed toward conclusive votes in the House this week. She did not specify those changes, which are expected to be unveiled as early as Wednesday." Officials say Advantage plans cost an average of 14 percent more than regular Medicare plans (Gibson, 3/16).
The Washington Post: The bill is being held up by "concerns that it would do too little to reduce the nation's budget deficit." Democrats hope to unveil the package Wednesday and to vote on the measure Saturday. "'It is very important to us that this legislation be fiscally sound - that is, save $100 billion in the first 10 years and $1 trillion in the second 10 years. That is our goal,' (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi said. 'We want to come as close to that as possible. In fact, we insist that we will. ... The numbers have to add up to drastic deficit reduction as we go forward.'" The bill must reduce the deficit by $2 billion over the next five years because Democrats are using budget reconciliation to pass it to avoid a Republican filibuster. Democrats are trying to raise money by raising Medicare taxes on the wealthy "(b)ut virtually everything House Democrats want to achieve in their package costs money. Meanwhile, House leaders want to dramatically scale back one of the most powerful deficit-reduction tools in the Senate bill: a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance policies" (Montgomery, 3/17).
CongressDaily: "House Majority Leader Hoyer declined to comment on whether more pay-fors might be needed, including on a question as to whether the excise tax on high-cost 'Cadillac' plans would start earlier than 2018. Unions pushed for the 2018 start date and President Obama included it in his proposal for changes that would be made to the Senate-passed overhaul bill." Pelosi said members will have 72 hours to read the bill before a vote (Edney, 3/17).
Roll Call: Senate Democrats plan to have a special health care caucus meeting Wednesday to discuss the overhaul. "One senior Senate Democratic aide cautioned that the 12:30 p.m. meeting is not intended to provide Senators with an awaited Congressional Budget Office cost estimate of the reconciliation measure, saying it was merely an 'update' for Members on where leaders are in the process" (Pierce, 3/16).