President Barack Obama’s hopes of getting some kind of health-care reform measure this fall have received a significant boost.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the lawmakers’ official scorekeeper on costs, reported that Sen. Max Baucus’ revised Senate Finance Committee bill would cost $829 billion over the decade, while reducing the deficit by $81 billion and the number of uninsured by 29 million. It would increase from 83 percent to 94 percent of non-elderly, legal U.S. residents covered by health insurance.
That means it meets two key Obama criteria: The cost is under $900 billion and it doesn’t add “one dime” to the deficit. By contrast, the Senate Health Committee bill would add $597 billion to the deficit, the principal House measure, $239 billion.
The White House perhaps tipped its hand on the bill when Obama’s budget director, Peter Orszag, praised the measure as demonstrating that “we can expand coverage and improve quality while being fiscally responsible.”
Emotional distractions like a government-run insurance option aside, the biggest obstacle to health-care reform has always been its cost, especially when the government is running huge and dangerous deficits.
Ten-year projections can be almost laughably off the mark, and Baucus’ bill is offset in ways that could be politically difficult to achieve, like squeezing $400 billion out of Medicare in the face of the notably prickly and powerful seniors’ lobby.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid must now combine the two committees’ bills into a single measure that will attract 60 votes, while keeping the most attractive aspect of the Baucus measure, its relative affordability.
And then there is another process fraught with peril to come. Reconciling the Senate bill with whatever the House comes up with when it combines its three bills.
The Republican congressional leadership remains unalterably opposed to giving Obama any kind of a victory on health care. But already the political ground is changing. Says The Wall Street Journal: “Lobbyists on both sides of the issue have shifted their focus to what the bill will look like rather than questioning whether a measure can succeed.”
That’s the best evidence yet that some form of this measure may pass.