By John Sawyer
The Senate Finance Committee, the final of the 5 Congressional Committees with jurisdiction over health care issues to act on this year’s reform effort, began debate last week, and will continue through this week and maybe beyond. The committee sessions have been contentious, with members using the amendment process to score political points as well as to improve the policy provisions of the legislation.
Despite the partisan back-and-forth, negotiations continue over the three amendments (Bingaman D6, Stabenow C5, and Menendez C3) that health centers are focused on. As a reminder, the quick description of the amendments is in last week’s post on the Finance Committee debate.
So why haven’t these amendments passed yet?
Well, in order for amendments to move forward, each must either have no cost or be fully paid for (according to the Congressional Budget Office), and the Committee Chairman – in this case Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) – must agree with the policy, must be confident the issue won’t raise broader (or thornier) political issues during the debate, and must be confident that the amendment has the votes to pass. With 564 amendments filed to the bill, and with most Senators not exactly known for their brevity, the process has moved along at a relatively slow pace.
As for this week, the Committee is expected to debate amendments – offered by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) adding a public health insurance option to the package on Tuesday. Beyond that debate, which will be contentious as the “public option” question divides Democrats, the Committee will press forward for the remainder of this week.
Only then, presuming the Finance Committee passes a bill, will Senate leaders and Committee leaders begin the process of merging the HELP and Finance Committee bills into one package that they are confident can garner the 60 votes needed to pass on the Senate floor.