Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Daily Strike-11/18/09-The Senate Score Is In

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on yet another "CBO score" day. Let's get right to it.

HEALTH CARE: Democratic Senators have received an estimate of their merged health care bill tonight, and the news is seemingly quite good. The bill would extend coverage to 94% of Americans, would reduce the deficit by $117 billion over the first 10 years, and remarkably by over $650 billion over the next ten years. As you know, the bill contains a public option, but gives states the opportunity to opt out. On first blush this looks like a very good cost estimate. The primary, and mostly unsubstantiated concerns of centrist Democrats is that the bill will cost too much and will increase the deficit. Now they'll have to find another argument.

But as many others have noted, we can't start celebrating yet. We haven't seen the official CBO report yet, so we don't know how Majority Leader Reid has managed to keep the cost of the bill so low. If he has decreased subsidy levels, that means the bill has been significantly weakened. If they lowered costs by expanding Medicaid (which is cheaper than subsidies), then the bill will have been slightly weakened. As always the devil is in the details, which will become available over the next 24 hours.

The cost estimate seems to appeal to some of the key swing votes. Senator Nelson (NE) seemed to indicate that he will vote to bring the bill to the floor, the first key procedural hurdle. Senator Landrieu (LA) expressed cautious optimism about the bill in a statement she released tonight. The one major plus of having a deficit busting bill, is that it provides some political cover to centrist Democrats who have campaigned on fiscal conservatism. The bill may be getting worse, but if that's the only way we can get this whole thing done, then so be it.

It's possible that Democrats will hold the vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed later this week. This will require 60 votes, meaning every Democratic Senator has to be on board. For this first procedural test, that's looking more and more likely. There is no room for error, however. Today, we found out that Senator Max Baucus had to return to Montana to attend to a family emergency. He may be back in time to vote by Friday or Saturday, but it is a reminder how fragile our coalition is even on procedural matters.

We'll follow the Senate's debate closely as the week continues.

THE HOUSE: On to the more mundane work that actually took place in Congress today...The House passed a bill that reauthorizes grants for fire prevention. The bill passed by a vote of 391-35. That's right, 35 members voted against big government fire fighting. They were all Republicans. The House voted on a couple of amendments before voting on final passage. They also voted on a few more suspension bills.

Tomorrow, the House will vote on the so-called "doctor fix" bill tomorrow. The bill will stop scheduled payment cuts to doctors through Medicare. We'll have more on that bill tomorrow.

THE SENATE: The Senate's work today was mostly off the floor on the health care bill. The Senate is waiting for the 30 hours to expire after invoking cloture on the nomination of David Hamilton to be an Appeals Court judge. It's possible that they'll vote on his nomination as late as 11pm tonight. After that, they will turn to a veterans health care bill that had been heretofore blocked by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

That's it for now. We'll see you tomorrow night! Leave comments

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