Senate's health care bill priced at $849 billion By Noam N. Levey Washington Bureau November 18, 2009
WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today prepared to outline his plan for expanding medical coverage without deepening the federal deficit, setting the stage for a long-delayed debate on the Senate floor over legislation to overhaul the nation's healthcare system.
Reid's proposal would cover an additional 31 million people by 2019, according to a senior Democratic aide, who quoted a preliminary estimate of the legislation by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
That would boost the percentage of non-elderly Americans with medical insurance from 83% to 94% over the next decade, slightly lower than the 96% of the population that the CBO estimated would be covered by a healthcare bill that the House's Democratic leadership narrowly won last week.
Reid's legislation which differs in important other ways from the House bill also would cost less, committing the federal government to $849 billion in new spending to expand coverage over the next decade, the aide said.
That would be offset by a combination of cuts in federal Medicare spending and a series of new taxes on healthcare industries and on wealthy Americans, including a hike in the payroll taxes that upper-income workers pay for Medicare.
The offsets mean that, over the next 10 years, federal deficits would be $127 billion lower than they would be without a healthcare bill, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated, according to the Senate aide. Deficits would be reduced by a further $650 billion in the next decade.
Reid's proposal, which he crafted by combining bills developed earlier this year by two Senate committees, still faces enormous obstacles.
And Democratic leaders worked throughout the day to maintain the fragile coalition of conservative and liberal lawmakers that will be needed to advance a healthcare bill. The first test will come later this week or early next week when the Senate takes a procedural vote to begin debate.
But Reid's gambit, which he plans to discuss with Democratic senators this evening at a closed door meeting at the Capitol, marked an important milestone in the party's drive to pass the most sweeping change to the nation's healthcare system in more than 40 years.
And, at a time of growing unease about federal spending, the CBO numbers may help Reid as he labors to rally Democrats to overcome Republican filibusters and push a healthcare bill through the Senate before the end of the year.
Without any GOP support, all 58 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them must hold together to get the required 60-vote super-majority necessary to move any health legislation in the Senate.
If Democrats prevail in the first procedural vote, lawmakers could begin considering amendments after Thanksgiving and potentially vote on a final bill before Christmas. The legislation would then have to be reconciled with the House's bill before it could be sent to the White House for President Obama's expected signature.
Most lawmakers expect that Reid's bill will be changed substantially long before then.
And some lawmakers including Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have indicated that, while they may support a procedural vote now, they may not support the final bill.
Underscoring the difficult road ahead, Reid spent more than an hour this afternoon meeting in his office with Nelson and two other Democrats wary of his health plan Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Vice President Joe Biden also helped with the lobbying effort, coming to the Capitol this morning to meet with individual lawmakers and press them for action.