This morning, Republicans spent two hours debating an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) that would have required the Committee put-off a vote on the health care bill until the legislative language of the bill was available on the Finance Committee‘s website for at least 72 hours. Republicans insisted that they could not vote on a final bill until the Congressional Budget Office produced a cost analysis of that final legislative language, delaying a vote for up to two weeks. “I want to know what the final number is on any bill that I vote on in this Committee….If the CBO director says he needs it for the true cost and the comprehensive cost, then that should get our attention,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said.
Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) agreed that a final CBO score is needed, but argued that the CBO can use conceptual language — rather than legislative language — to score the bill. Baucus reminded senators that the Committee has traditionally relied on a final CBO score of the conceptual language to pass President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, the Medicare drug bill, as well as other Republican initiatives. He contended that legislative language would not change the intent of the plain language mark; in fact, should any discrepancies arise, the Chairman promised to introduce a mark that would restore the original intent of the language.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) argued that plain language enhances transparency — by helping the public and the legislators better understand the intent of the legislation — and read a passage of legislative language to demonstrate its complexity. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) then unintentionally underscored Conrad’s point by misunderstanding the passage. ” If members of this own committee can’t recognize what this is all about, that’s why it’s critically important why it should be in plain English,” Conrad emphasized. Watch it:
Ultimately, the Bunning amendment failed in a vote of 11 to 12. Instead, the Committee adopted Baucus’ amendment that required that the conceptual language, in plain English and a complete cost analysis by the CBO be publicly available on the finance website before the final vote. The amendment carried with a 13 to 10 vote.