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Finance Committee Says "Yes" to Health Care Reform

October 13, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate Finance Committee — the most conservative committee in all of Congress — was supposed to be the hurdle to trip up health care reform. If the Democrats could pass a bill out of the Finance Committee, they could pass one through the House and the full Senate. The roadblocks to President Obama’s health care reform push would be moderates and conservatives, not liberals, the thinking goes.

Well, today the Finance Committee officially approved their health care bill by a vote of 14-9 — full roll call info forthcoming on OpenCongress — for now, check the official membership — all 14 Dems voted aye, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was the lone Republican voting to approve the measure. This sends the issue to the full Senate for debate and votes on the floor and essentially seals the deal that Obama’s health care reform plan would become law.

The Finance Committee bill, known as the America‚Äôs Health Future Act of 2009 and championed principally by Chairman Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT], is more conservative than any of the other health care bills in Congress. It does not contain a public option, its subsidies for helping low-income people buy insurance are low, it doesn’t require employers to provide insurance for their employees and levies heavier fines on individuals that don’t get insurance. But it will have to be reconciled with the more liberal Senate HELP Committee health care bill before it comes to the Senate floor. A handy chart laying out the major sticking points between the two bills can be found here.

On the topic of the public option, there has been a lot of chatter about a potential compromise proposal to set up a robust, nation-wide public plan, but allow states to opt out of it. The idea is that the such a plan would lead to a public option that had the economy of scale to work at driving down costs, but wouldn’t restrict a state’s ability to not participate for any reason. Previous versions of federalist plans like this were mostly focused on opt-in, giving states the ability to set up their own state-wide or regional public plans if they wanted to.

Expect the opt-out public option or something close to it to be in the bill that Democratic leaders bring to the floor. It’s the kind of thing that moderates will probably be OK enough with to vote in favor of breaking a Republican filibuster on starting debate of the bill, but not enough to actually support adding as an amendment. You can also expect the Dem. leadership to throw the progressives a bone and let them have their vote on a straight, robust public option like the one included in the House bill.

As for the timing, the bill won’t hit the Senate floor until the reconciliation process with the HELP bill is completed, the Congressional Budget Office has scored it, and it (and the CBO score) have been online for a “reasonable” period of time. I think that means the week of October 26th is about when we can expect the floor debate to begin. But, who knows, the timing could change. Just about every stage of the health care reform process has taken much longer than expected.

We are going to continue to watch this whole thing closely, and we’ll be reporting on this blog as news breaks and new information becomes available. Grab the RSS feed and stay tuned!

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