WASHINGTON — The Senate healthcare bill, with House “fixes,” will reduce the federal budget deficit by $130 billion in the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the second 10, according to House leaders, citing a forthcoming report from the Congressional Budget Office.
The long-awaited CBO report appears to be a big boost to House Democrats in a sprint to get healthcare reform wrapped up, as soon as this week.
“It is the largest deficit reduction measure in 25 years, since Clinton’s budget in 1993, which ushered in the great economy of the 1990s,” says House majority leader Steny Hoyer.
Many Democrats – from fiscal and social conservatives on the right of the caucus to progressives on the left – have had serious concerns about the Senate version of the bill – even with a package of “fixes.”
But for many conservatives in the caucus, the biggest obstacle was the overall cost of the bill – and claims that it would significantly expand the reach of government into one-sixth of the economy. The CBO, in its forthcoming report, sets the 10-year cost of the bill at $940 billion, but with offsets and cost savings higher than expected.
“The CBO score adds to the momentum,” says Ralph Neas, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, a pro-reform group. “A lot of people thought that the new CBO score could be a setback. They were expecting the numbers to be bad, and these are much better than expected.”
In addition to positive economic news, the tipping point for many wavering Democrats appears to be that this is a crucial moment for the Obama presidency – and the last chance to pass historic healthcare legislation before midterm elections, if ever.
At the same time, House Democratic leaders are ramping up procedures that will give members cover from having to take a direct vote on legislation that many see as flawed.
Several key Democrats representing views across the caucus announced support for the package this week – even before seeing the package of “fixes” or the scorecard by the CBO.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio on Wednesday moved from a solid no to a pledged yes vote, after a trip to his district with President Obama on Air Force One.
“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it, but the bill as it is,” he said in a Wednesday-morning announcement. Representative Kucinich, one of 39 Democrats who voted against the House version of healthcare reform on Nov. 7, 2009, says that he still favors a single-payer system but also recognizes the “transformational potential” of the Obama presidency.
“I have taken a detour through supporting this bill, but I know the destination I will continue to lead, for as long as it takes, whatever it takes, to an America where healthcare will be firmly established as a civil right,” he added.
Democratic leaders are also focused on ensuring that the 42 yes votes from social conservatives in November don’t flip to no because the language banning the funding of abortions is weaker than it was in the House version. Some dozen Democrats could break with leaders on this issue, Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan has said.
On March 17, the heads of most Catholic women’s religious orders in the United States released a letter calling on members of Congress to “cast a life-affirming ‘yes’ vote” when the Senate healthcare bill comes to the floor of the House.
“We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor,” they wrote. They disputed “false” claims that the bill will provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions, a position taken by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it,” they wrote.
Capitol Hill is awash in “whip” counts, with everyone from party leaders to lobbyists fixed on this issue. With the tabulation from the CBO, House leaders expect to push past the 216 votes they need to move healthcare to the president’s desk.
“We just have to make sure our members are comfortable with it and get the language to them,” says Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Kucinich is the only official ‘no’ to ‘yes.’ We think there will be others.”
House leaders were encouraged that several Democrats supporting abortion rights, including Reps. Dale Kildee of Michigan and James Oberstar of Minnesota, also announced this week that they still plan to vote for the bill, even with the Senate language on abortion.