Baucus to chop $600 billion from healthcare bill

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of his healthcare bill has prompted him to rein in costs and admitted that could delay action on the legislation.

His goal is to bring the cost of his panel’s sprawling healthcare reform bill down from $1.6 trillion to $1 trillion, and to pay for it entirely with tax increases, spending cuts and other offsets.

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Baucus said his committee will go back to the drawing board to pare down the cost of healthcare reform and could not guarantee that a markup of legislation would happen next week as scheduled.

A Finance Committee aide said the changes will not result in any delays to the schedule. Baucus’s bill has yet to be made public, and the markup was expected to begin before the July 4 recess.

“CBO scores are really important,” said Baucus, after members of the Finance Committee decided to re-craft portions of its legislation based on the CBO estimate. “CBO just told us 10 minutes ago what the implication would be on a certain provision which is important to a lot of senators.

“We have to wait on some of these numbers while senators make up their minds on some of these policy provisions, and it’s just taking time. When we’re ready, we’re ready. We’re not there yet.”

When asked whether the markup would be delayed until after the July 4 recess, Baucus said: “I hope not but I can’t guarantee it.”

A Finance Committee aide said the changes will be crafted immediately.

“Sen. Baucus wants to ensure the committee gets the mark right and will take the time to do exactly that,” the aide said. “While it's simply too early to say when the markup process will begin, the committee will continue to work hard over the next week and a half to produce a bill that is fully paid for and can pass the Senate. Sen. Baucus will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle and remains confident we'll have a budget-neutral bill."

Members of the Finance Committee will review a range of policies, including the size of healthcare subsidies offered to low- and middle-income Americans. The CBO estimated that subsidies under consideration by the Finance Committee would have spurred a larger-than-expected flight of people away from employer-provided health insurance plans, increasing the plan’s projected cost, according to a member of the panel.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a senior member of Finance, applauded Baucus’s decision to slow things down and get the numbers right.

“When you’re dealing with something of this complexity, you send up a plan, see what it costs, and you know it's got to be reduced and then you make changes and then it all has to go back and be re-scored, and a lot of people have to be in on the discussion, so it’s very time-consuming,” said Conrad. “I think it was a very good decision to slow down because of the score that came back.

“Given this score from CBO, we need more time to evaluate options,” Conrad added when asked about the budget agency’s projection that the bill would cost $1.6 trillion.

Conrad said $1.6 trillion is “way too much.”