Senate Health Reform Bill Timeline Slipping, Reid Plans Caucus Meeting Today
Senate action on health care reform before the Thanksgiving break seems less likely "as the upper chamber still doesn't have a final version of the bill," The Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will allow Senators to read the bill before he brings up a procedural vote to start debate, "(b)ut Congress is scheduled to be out all next week for the Thanksgiving holiday, and even keeping the Senate in session throughout the weekend might not provide enough time." Reid said Tuesday that he is "cautiously optimistic" that he has 60 votes to advance the bill to the floor. "'Of all the bills we've seen, it'll be the best,' Reid said" (Young, 11/17).
The Christian Science Monitor reports that the score from the Congressional Budget Office - the cause of all the waiting - presents a special problem. "The leadership team drafting the Senate bill (is) using CBO estimates of how much various potential healthcare reforms will cost to rejig their draft bill. The goal is to get the score - and the mix of policy - necessary to get a bill through the Senate" (Russell Chaddock, 11/17).
In the meantime, Reid has called a special caucus meeting for Wednesday night to brief Senators on the health care bill, Roll Call reports. "Scheduling the meeting suggests Reid is confident he will have the CBO score in hand by Wednesday afternoon. This could put Reid in a position to set up a vote to begin debate on the bill as early as Friday or Saturday" (Pierce, 11/17).
CongressDaily reports that some details of the CBO analysis have been released to Senators, but that they are remaining quiet on it. Also, CongressDaily reports that Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., is "working on a 'Plan B' public option alternative if the (plan to allow states to) opt-out ... lacks the votes" that would create nonprofit boards operating in states that "fail to meet a yet-to-be determined affordability standard" (Edney and Friedman, 11/18).
The Washington Post: "Preliminary estimates by the nonpartisan (CBO), the legislation's official scorekeeper, have indicated that the Senate measure would cost far less than the bill the House approved last week, while lowering the federal deficit further over the long term, said several senior Democratic aides who have reviewed the CBO data" (Murray and Montgomery, 11/18).
But it remains unclear that Reid can muster the 60 votes even to simply bring up debate on the bill, The New York Times reports. Among the Democrats who haven't pledged to support a motion to begin debate include Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. "Inability by the Democrats to advance their emerging plan could require them to regroup and redraw the measure or even switch to a more contentious procedural shortcut around the need for a 60-vote majority" (Hulse, 11/17).
Politico reports that lawmakers have three options if they want to "pass a health bill fast:" "the mini-conference; reconciliation, which would require only 51 votes; and ping-pong, where the bill goes back and forth between the Senate and the House until they can negotiate a final compromise. The most-talked-about shortcut is end-running the formal conference committee process in favor of some sort of mini-conference based out of the leadership offices" (Frates and Budoff Brown, 11/18).
Roll Call profiles Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, noting that he's "hit his stride on health reform."
"In late May, McConnell gave the first of what would be a series of floor speeches on health care reform. His goal was not necessarily to influence the court of public opinion; rather, it was to provide his conference with a road map for combating the Democratic health care agenda." And McConnell, in his second term as the Republican leader, keeps others involved in the fight too. "McConnell has tried to give his members significant roles in the GOP health care effort. While he takes to the Senate floor and hits the Sunday talk show circuit - he's appeared 16 times this year - his colleagues have led the party's day-to-day messaging and legislative fights" (Stanton, 11/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.