For those of us covering health care reform, waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score is always somewhat nerve wracking. We sit at our desks refreshing the CBO web page, scouring the latest twitter updates and reading the tea leaves of lawmakers’ cable news appearances — all this in an effort to see the language the very moment it comes out.
We receive desperate phone calls from our colleagues — who don’t spend the entire day staring at their TweetDecks — asking, “where is it?,” “how much longer?” “why isn’t it here yet?” We’re all incredibly frustrated — particularly since Democrats continue to insist that they will pass the House health care bill before the end of the week — but in this case, the delay is understandable.
As the Washington Post explains, under the rules, the reconciliation package must reduce the deficit by at least $2 billion over the next five years and avoid increasing the deficit in any year thereafter — as measured against the Senate bill:
But virtually everything House Democrats want to achieve in their package costs money. For example, Obama and House leaders have promised to increase government subsidies to help lower-income people purchase insurance, to fully close the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole in the Medicare prescription drug program, and to extend to all states the deal cut with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D), under which the federal government would pay for a proposed expansion of Medicaid.
Meanwhile, House leaders want to dramatically scale back one of the most powerful deficit-reduction tools in the Senate bill: a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance policies. Obama has proposed to delay implementation of the tax until 2018 and to limit the number of policies that would be subject to the tax.
In other words, it’s taking so long because Democrats are trying to practice what Republicans only talk about — responsible spending and deficit reduction. To accomplish this, lawmakers have to go back and forth with the CBO, “scrambling to come up with additional sources of cash.” So in many ways, the slow, laborious process is to be expected. But having said that, have you heard anything yet?
POLITICO’s Jon Allen reports: Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter said today, “I don’t expect to meet until Saturday — if then.”
,House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Democrats will vote as soon as they have “CBO numbers we have confidence in.” “Saturday and Sunday are possibilities,” he said.
A top House Democratic staffer just told me the reconciliation bill, with some surprises, and a tentative CBO score will be posted on the House Rules web site late tonight or early tomorrow morning. Then a final CBO score will be posted Friday. The Rules Committee will meet Friday to mark up the rule. Then the House will vote on the rule Saturday, engage in perhaps four hours of debate, and, later Saturday, take the final vote on the reconciliation bill, which will deem the passage of the Senate bill.
House Democratic leaders on Wednesday night said the long-awaited Congressional Budget Office score of the reconciliation bill will not come out until Thursday, forcing an acknowledgement that a Saturday healthcare vote is likely off the table.
But leaders are still hoping for a score on Thursday, and are still preparing for a possible vote before the end of the weekend.