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Health Reform Moves Closer to Vote This Week

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, March 16, 2010

The wheels began turning this week toward completing a final healthcare reform measure.

On Monday afternoon, one of those wheels was the House Budget Committee, which voted 21-16 to approve a draft bill that will be used to make changes to the Senate-approved healthcare reform bill.

Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr. (D-SC) said at the beginning of the hearing that the reconciliation process had been used 22 times throughout the past three decades—oftentimes to create or alter social insurance programs. In 20 of those instances, the GOP was either the majority party in Congress and/or in the White House, he said, in response to GOP arguments that reconciliation should "not be used for this purpose."

The bill passed out of the committee on Monday contains no specific language related to healthcare: It instead will act as a "shell" for the provisions that will be added by the House Rules Committee later this week. The bill is being used to create a type of legislative framework that will modify the Senate healthcare reform bill.

The Budget Committee's ranking minority member, Paul Ryan (R-WI), called the particular process a "blind markup" and said that the panel was creating a "legislative Trojan horse" in which "a handful of people hidden from public view will shape how Americans receive and pay for healthcare."

As the next step, the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), will determine how long House can debate the legislation and who will be allowed to introduce amendments. The House could vote as early as the end of the week on the Senate bill and add-on bill.

In response to whether the votes are there, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), surrounded by more than a dozen babies and mothers at a news conference Monday, said that if healthcare reform is finally brought to the House floor, possibly by the end of the week, "we will have the votes."

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