Finance Committee to vote on healthcare next week

The Senate Finance Committee will not vote on its healthcare reform bill until next week, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday evening.

Baucus said he discussed this timetable with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Wednesday evening. "He expects us to vote sometime next week," Baucus said.

That would give Reid a narrow time window to combine the Finance Committee's bill with healthcare legislation already approved by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee before beginning a floor debate the week of Oct. 13.

The Finance Committee has been meeting to mark up Baucus's bill since last Tuesday but has not worked its way through all of the pending amendments. Moreover, Baucus said he will not ask senators to vote on the final version of the bill until he has received a full cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

That CBO score presents what will be the final speed bump for a bill that the Senate Democratic leadership and President Barack Obama wanted finished months ago. Baucus explained that the CBO will need about three days to score the bill as amended. "It may take a few days before we get a final vote," he said.

Republicans grumbled that Baucus should not expect the committee to vote on a bill until its provisions and budgetary score is completely locked down and accused Baucus of rushing the process. GOP senators also asked to see formal legislative language as opposed to the so- called conceptual language the committee always uses for its bills.

Democrats rejected that argument, saying that the committee is following its normal procedures. "What we have here is what we always have," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). "This is nothing new."

Baucus brushed aside the Republicans' charge that he is rushing the bill: "This is the longest mark up in 15 years" by the Finance Committee. Converting the committee's bill into legislative language and getting another CBO score would take two weeks, he said.