November 9, 2009

House Passes $891 Billion Healthcare Bill

Reform bill faces tough road in the Senate

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The House voted 220-215 on Saturday, November 7, to pass H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, with opposition from 39 democrats and support from one lone Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-Louisiana).

The bill blends and updates the three versions of previous bills passed by the various House committees of jurisdiction in July. The debate now goes to the Senate, where the bill faces tough opposition.

The opposition of Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, to the House bill's public plan option has already been noted. If a government plan is part of the healthcare deal, "a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to final vote," Lieberman is quoted as saying in published reports. Democrats need Lieberman's vote to overcome any potential Republican filibuster of the bill.

On November 6, the Congressional Budget Office updated its estimate of the cost of the bill to a net $891 billion over 10 years for the expanded health insurance coverage, which sponsors say would cover 36 million Americans. According to this latest estimate the net cost "reflects a gross total of $1,052 billion in subsidies provided through the exchanges (and related spending), increased net outlays for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and tax credits for small employers; those costs are partly offset by $167 billion in collections of penalties paid by individuals and employers."

As for the next step on the bill, "the best case scenario includes [Democratic leader] Harry Reid unveiling the Democrats' healthcare bill with a CBO score this week," says Beth Mantz Steindecker, a healthcare analyst at Washington Analysis. "That would mean the earliest it could reach the floor would be next week, as the Senate adjourns for the week Wednesday for Veterans Day." Mantz Steindecker goes on to say that the Senate "would need a minimum of two weeks for debate. With the Thanksgiving recess (November 23 to 27), that means the earliest passage in the Senate would occur is the week of December 7th. That would give conferees a mere two weeks to pass the bill before the winter recess."

In his latest blog posting, the director of the nonpartisan CBO, Doug Elmendorf, discusses the bill's effect on the budget deficit and on taxes.

Senate debate on healthcare reform has been stalled for weeks because Senator Reid (D-NEvada) has been trying to come up with a bill that can win the 60 votes he needs to overcome a potential Republican filibuster.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), is quoted in published reports as saying, "The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate."

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