Thursday, October 8, 2009

UPDATE 10/8: GETTING CLOSER TO A SENATE FINANCE BILL

Publication of the CBO’s scoring of the final Chairman’s Mark version of the Senate Finance Committee’s draft reform bill at $829 billion over ten years, while covering some 94 percent of American residents, has given a big boost to Chairman Baucus’ efforts.

The CBO number is rather better than expected, and well below the $900 billion figure set by President Obama as a maximum acceptable amount. The CBO forecast that the draft bill would reduce the federal deficit by some $81 billion over the next decade, also a better-than-expected number, and one that has left Republican opponents struggling to find persuasive arguments against the bill. The CBO also estimated that the deficit would be further reduced over the subsequent decade (starting in 2020) at a rate of between one-quarter and one-half of GDP, as reform-related revenues and savings continue to exceed expansion costs.

A number of caveats are included in the CBO scoring letter and accompanying tables, including the effect of the proposed Medicare Commission’s efforts and that the forecast is based on an “English-language” version of the Finance Committee draft bill, rather than on actual legislative language. Other important cautions not specifically stated are the validity of assumptions about national health trends and the overall economy.

Chairman Baucus has now scheduled a vote on the legislative-language version of the draft bill for Tuesday, October 13. Assuming that the Democratic-majority Finance Committee votes to approve this version, it will then be combined with the version already created by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee—a process that will involve some fierce horse-trading over inclusion or exclusion of a public option. Meanwhile, House Democrats are working to finalize a single version of the bills that emerged from the three House committees with responsibility for government health care programs—a version that will definitely include a public program option.

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