Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., second from right, talks with teh committee's ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, before the start of the markup of health care legislation. From left are, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Baucus, and Grassely. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate Finance Committee’s health reform bill will cost $829 billion over 10 years – bringing it well within the president’s $900 billion target and clearing the way for a committee vote as early as Friday.
The CBO also said the bill would cover 94 percent of Americans and reduce the federal deficit by $81 billion in the first decade – and continue racking up savings even in the second 10 years.
That means the bill meets two of President Barack Obama’s biggest criteria for health reform legislation – dramatically expanding health coverage and not adding to the deficit.
The estimate removes a major hurdle toward a vote in the committee, because several senators said they needed to see the cost breakdown before casting a vote – in particular, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who could be the only Republican senator to support the legislation.
A Senate Finance vote is not expected Thursday, but perhaps Friday, Senate aides said.
The closely watched estimate is a big boost for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who drew fire from his party’s liberals for crafting a moderate bill without a public health option or a requirement that employers must provide insurance.
But Baucus always argued that the middle-of-the-road Finance bill was the one bill with best chance of passage in Congress – and now he’s got a favorable price-tag to back that up.
“The report is good news. Our balanced approach in the Finance Committee to health reform I think has paid off once again,” Baucus said on the Senate floor shortly after the CBO estimate was released. “It improves and expands health care coverage for tens of millions of American families.”