Senate Democrats look to start health reform debate next week


The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to finish its cost analysis of the Senate bill by the end of this week or early next.

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Senior aides and senators say Democrats plan to pivot quickly and file the first procedural vote as early as Monday. A “motion to proceed” vote, which brings the bill to the floor, would require 60 votes — a first, critical test of the caucus’s unity on procedural votes.

Senators don’t expect any momentum from Saturday’s successful 220-215 House vote, however. They say the most realistic scenario is for a Senate vote by Christmas followed by final passage in mid-January.

That would allow sufficient time for House-Senate conference talks and final House-Senate votes during January’s first weeks. Such a scenario would also put final passage around the time of President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE’s State of the Union address.

“I’m optimistic about that,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezIn judge's 2010 Senate trial, Menendez was guilty of hypocrisy Excused Menendez juror: 'I don't think he did anything wrong' We don't need a terrorist attack to know diversity program has to go MORE (N.J.) said of such a timetable.

Congressional leaders have continually delayed deadlines for healthcare reform’s final passage. Early in the year, Democrats were predicting a midsummer vote, then rescheduled it for just before the August recess. When that proved impossible, they proposed a final vote this fall or by the end of the year. Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenThe Hill's 12:30 Report Pence talks regularly to Biden, Cheney: report Biden moving toward 2020 presidential run: report MORE have all recently touted the year-end deadline.

More mindful of the bill’s difficulty in the Senate, however, Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidTop Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor GOP in uncharted territory rolling back rules through resolutions MORE (D-Nev.) last week initially declined to endorse another specific deadline, simply saying he prefers “no timetables” but then re-emphasizing the year-end goal. On Monday, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid “continues to work with the Obama administration to get a bill done by the end of the year.”

Watching from across the aisle, Republicans note the various missed deadlines and say they doubt Democrats can pull off a year-end deadline for final passage.

“Remember in July, when it had to be done by the August break? Then it was expected to come up right after Labor Day and it wasn’t, and here we are three months later,” said Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenators push mandatory sexual harassment training for members, staff Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks, background checks Senate panel to hold hearing on bump stocks MORE (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. “What’s happening is they’re finding out how difficult it is to put a bill together. They’re learning what [Finance Committee Chairman] Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusTop Lobbyists 2017: Hired Guns GOP tries to keep spotlight on taxes amid Mueller charges Clinton-Sanders tensions linger for Democrats MORE [D-Mont.] and I went through in May, June and July.”

With so many complexities still revolving, some Democrats are even reluctant to predict when a bill could cross the finish line. Asked on Monday about his confidence that a bill could be finished by year’s end, Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) simply said, “It’s possible, but I don’t want to speculate.”

Other Democrats suggested the conference is deeply split on which timetable to select.

“There’s a lot of moving parts here,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats. “We’re waiting on the CBO, then it depends on Reid. Then some people say [debate] will start after Veterans Day, some people say it won’t start until Thanksgiving and some people think we can get it done between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s the goal. It’s possible still, but it depends on a spirit of compromise.”

“The Senate will definitely get a bill on healthcare reform by [Christmas],” said Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganDemocrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 Linking repatriation to job creation MORE (D-N.C.). “Beyond that, I don’t know.”