Democrats Face Long Slog As They Try To Finish Health Care By Year’s End

October 20, 2009 7:34 a.m.

With no firm deadline in the Senate, but a health care bill expected on the floor next month, it’s probably worth laying out a rough time line for the larger reform effort.

The House will soon have a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on its health care bill–including three different variants of the public option–and will then proceed to a floor debate and vote. Compared to the Senate, this entire process should be relatively painless.

On the other side of the Hill, the floor debate could take weeks.Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to offer hundreds of amendments, each of which, by unanimous consent, will likely be subjected to a 60-vote threshold for passage. (This agreement would serve as a time saving measure. Without it, every amendment package would be subject to two votes and a long delay: a 60-threshold cloture vote to overcome a filibuster, followed by up to 30 hours of debate, and a 51-threshold vote for passage. That would slow things down significantly.)

It’s difficult, in other words, to imagine a floor vote on the final health care bill before December. Republicans have basically announced their intent to drag things on as long as they can stand it, so it could potentially have to wait until the eve of holiday recess.

And even then, that doesn’t mean the health care fight will be over. Once both the House and Senate have passed their bills, principals from both chambers will meet in a conference committee to iron out major differences between the two versions. These sessions can be swift–but if the differences are truly great, they can drag on for quite some time.

Democrats continue to say–after pushing the deadline back from August, through October, and November–that they hope to have a bill ready for the President’s signature by the end of the year. It’s possible–but it’s starting to seem unlikely.

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