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Reid Says Senate Reform Bill Is Nearly Complete

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, December 15, 2009

Comparing the past two weeks of the Senate floor debate to a steeple chase race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the time is close to vote on the bill.

"It's been a tough race, but it's been worth it," Reid said Monday in a briefing accompanied by several key Democratic senators who have participated in the floor debate.

"We all stand shoulder to shoulder in the belief that healthcare reform is necessary and timely. We're working hand-to-hand with the White House to accomplish that goal," he said. "I am confident that by next week we'll be on the way to fowarding this bill to the president."

The question remains, though: What exactly is in the bill in terms of a public insurance option, Medicare buy-in plan, a not-for-profit private insurance option, or something new? Since last week, Reid has kept the direction and language under wraps—and yesterday was no exception.

The Medicare buy-in plan, though, for individuals age 55-64 without insurance is one idea that appears dead—though Reid did not discuss Medicare expansion specifically.

"We have been careful about not talking about specifics in [Reid's] manager's package for reasons that are very, very obvious," he said. "We don't want to have to make this public and then have to change things—if CBO [the Congressional Budget Office] handles this the right way," he said. He expressed his desire that Democrats—and even a few Republicans—would support the package.

Senators accompanying Reid, such as Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), were left promoting other aspects of the bill, including "lowering taxes." He said: "It's the biggest tax cut since the 2001 tax cut. On a net basis, this legislation, because of tax credits, lowers taxes for Americans."

So far, the pace of the Senate healthcare reform debate could be best described as glacial—with less than 20 amendments out of nearly 400 being voted on. Discussion, though, appears to be lively off the Senate floor—with various compromises and agreements being forged.

Some of the amendments could appear in the manager's amendment. However, this manager's amendment would not be finalized most likely until after the Senate leadership decides that they have the 60 votes for final passage of the healthcare reform bill in hand.

When the bill is released, pending the review by the CBO, the debate is expected to be quite intense among Republicans who during the floor debate have complained about being left out of the drafting process. At one point on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talked about the bill stuck in a conference room nearby "being turned into sausage to get to 60 votes."

Today, the Senate will resume votes on amendments, including the proposal by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to permit the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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