November 19, 2009

Senate Likely To Begin Debate Of Healthcare Bill

According to Washington budget analysts, the U.S. Senate's proposed healthcare reform plan is in line with President Barack Obama's goal of reducing the deficit "” a finding that could potentially give the fiercely debated bill the boost it needs to pass in the Senate.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid presented the patchwork bill on Wednesday "” the result of weeks of closed-door negotiations aimed at merging two separate Senate bills.  The Congressional Budget Office has said that the proposed legislation would cost some $849 billion over the next decade, which means that it falls within Obama's goal of keeping it under $900 billion.

Full of the dubiously-founded optimism typical of Washington bureaucrats, some D.C. insiders say that the Senate healthcare makeover could even reduce the deficit by some $127 billion over the next 10 years and some $650 billion in the following 10 years.

A number of leading Democrats hope that the CBO's statistics on the bill will help to loosen-up fiscally conservative Democrats in the Senate who have been skeptical of the roughly $1 trillion costs associated with the House version of the bill passed earlier this month.

Obama's hotly disputed healthcare overhaul had been placed on the backburner in the Senate as Democrats waited for the CBO's financial estimates to come through and scrambled to piece together the 60 vote majority needed to push the bill through.

Leading Democrats say that the bill seeks to extend coverage to the more than 30 million uninsured Americans while at the same time abolishing the right of insurance companies to refuse coverage to patients with pre-existing health conditions.

The Senate will now likely vote on Friday or Saturday on whether debate of the bill can now be initiated "” the first difficult step in what may prove a long and arduous journey for one of the most divisive pieces of legislation in U.S. history.

Should the Senate version of the bill pass, it will still have to be consolidated with the version passed by the House of Representatives, after which both branches of Congress will again have to vote on and approve the final version before it can be sent to the White House for the president's signature.

Senator Reid expressed cautious optimism that he will be able to stitch together the 60 votes needed to get the debate rolling. 

But Senate Democrats have no wiggle-room.  With control of exactly 60 of 100 seats and faced with a firmly united opposition Republican front, every party member without exception must fall in line if they are to have any chance of passing the legislation.

Several moderate Democrats have stood staunchly against the inclusion of the much-debated "public option" in the bill, but Reid believes he can at least get them in line long enough to get the debate started.

Obama has set healthcare reform as the prime domestic goal of his presidency.  As the bill has proven largely unpopular amongst the public, however, Democrats hope to squeak the bill through before next year's congressional elections, fearing that they will lose a number of seats in both chambers.

If the Senate votes to take up the bill, the debate will likely begin as early as November 30 and go on until the Christmas break.  Even the most optimistic of Congressional Democrats do not, however, expect to have a bill on the president's desk before the end of the year.