LIVEBLOG: Senate Finance Committee Votes On Health Care Reform Bill

October 13, 2009 6:01 a.m.

Check in here for continuous updates until the vote, which may not come until the afternoon.2:52 p.m.: The final vote, as expected once Snowe announced her intent, was 14-9. All five congressional committees have now reported out their health care reform bills.

2:49 p.m.: Here comes the vote.

2:42 p.m.: “I do think a public option is necessary,” Rockefeller says, because, “the insurance industry does not know how to stop itself.”

2:41 p.m.: Rockefeller says, “I’m going to vote for this bill coming out of Finance…because I think that, in spite of a lot of the problems that I have with it, I think that the dialogue is now for real.”

2:40 p.m.: Rockefeller’s last chance to rock the boat forthcoming.

2:32 p.m.: How much did outside forces (President Obama, the AHIP/PwC report) have on Snowe’s vote? Impossible to know, but it’s worth pointing out that Snowe met with Obama last week. And, while we’re on Obama, he’s meeting with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) as I type….

2:24 p.m.: We’re nearing a vote…

2:05 p.m.: Deep thought–I don’t believe Olympia Snowe hadn’t decided how to vote before the committee. Just a hunch.

2:04 p.m.: Bill Nelson (who’s a “yes,” by the way) is reading a bunch of insurance company horror stories sent his way. These stories never cease to amaze me.

1:57 p.m.: Snowe’s announcement that she’ll vote for the bill today spread a ripple of excited whispers across the silent hearing room. You can see video of that moment here.

1:56 p.m.: Wyden’s a yes today. He will “vote to move this legislation forward.”

1:50 p.m.: Did you know that Ron Wyden supports consumer choice in the insurance market? Well, he does.

1:48 p.m.: Schumer said, “this is not a perfect bill. it need further changes on the floor and in conference.”

1:44 p.m.: Enter Chuck Schumer–his support today is locked in, though he certainly believes the bill could be significantly improved. This bill “does more than any of the other four bills” to control costs, he says. But, he adds, “to cut costs, we must have a public option,” in the final bill. Strong words.

1:40 p.m.: My colleague Christina noted yesterday that Republicans will likely end up defending the PwC report, but that they’ll do so cautiously in order to avoid the appearance of defending the insurance industry. Well, I’m not sure how well they’re succeeding so far, but it’s very clear that they’re embracing the findings of the analysis, without mentioning that it was commissioned and designed by America’s Health Insurance Plans.

1:33 p.m.: MoveOn isn’t even waiting for a vote. Now that it’s clear that the committee will approve this bill, it’s announcing a new week-long national cable ad buy.

1:29 p.m.: Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) just entered the room. Both had been absent pretty much the entire hearing.

1:21 p.m.: Just a note. He’s not a member of the committee. But Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) says he doesn’t support the Baucus bill in its current form.

1:17 p.m.: The below video captures what I believe will serve as the origin of a major talking point for public option supporters. John Kerry lambasting the PwC report and arguing that it serves as a powerful argument for the public option.

1:13 p.m.: Bunning’s back up, but it almost doesn’t matter at this point. Republicans can bray all they want, but this thing’s a go.

1:05 p.m.: Aaaaand now the panel sings happy birthday to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The Senate can be so Senate-y sometimes.

12:59 p.m.: Baucus thanks Snowe for he “thoughtful statement.” “It will be well remembered,” he says. Bipartisanship!

12:58 p.m.: Snowe notes, “The majority has the votes. It has the votes in the House, it has the votes in the Senate.” Good to know!

12:56 p.m.: Snowe says she will vote for the bill on the committee as a way of saying that the process should move forward, but will be vigilant as its merged with the HELP bill. “My vote today does not forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.”

12:53 p.m.: “At the same time, I have shared my fellow Republicans’ concerns” about government involvement. Reiterates her opposition to the public option .

12:51 p.m.: Snowe does not support “arbitrary deadlines.” But she notes, “the mark before us produces some “landmark, bipartisan reforms.” She’s waxing very positive about the bill at the time being.

12:49 p.m.: Snowe’s back up. Let’s listen closely. “We should also contemplate the decades of inaction that have brought us to this crossroads.”

12:47 p.m.: It’s interesting that Conrad’s taking a whack at the “robust” public option. A robust public option, he says, “is a non-starter for me.” That’s not unexpected–he opposed it strongly during the mark up–but right now he’s mum on the “level playing field” option, which he also voted against, and this is all a far cry from his old position that the public option question was “moot” because it can’t get 60 votes. Have things changed?

12:43 p.m.: Conrad speaks of “the effect of public option when it is tied to Medicare levels of reimbursement.”

My state has the second lowest level of medicare reimbursement…That has very serious consequences for not only my states but other low reimbursement states. I’ve had continuing dialogue with people in my home state…I would ask them to consider that Medicare levels of reimbursement [have been this way] for years.

OK, well, granting that premise for the time being, what about a public option with negotiated rates, though?

12:40 p.m.: Hatch criticizes the majority for “ramming this through,” when, with enough time, the CBO could provide an analysis of the impact the bill would have on premiums.

12:37 p.m.: Rock, interrupted: “Despite the improvements made…Mr. Chairman, my time is up.” Finish the sentence, Mr. Senator!

12:34 p.m.: Rockefeller says that this bill “still fall short of what people need and expect from us.” Hmmm…. He says he’s splitting his closing statement into two parts. Perhaps all the good stuff will come later. But for now he’s lauding the HELP Committee bill by contrast to the package he’s about to vote on….

: Rockefeller back up. Meanwhile, Baucus having a face-to-face with Snowe. Would love to be in on that convo!

12:23 p.m.: Lincoln lays out a warning. “My support here does not [ensure] my support for the final product,” she says. If the final bill doesn’t control costs, protect seniors, etc., she reserves the right to vote against it.

12:20 p.m. No lunch break till vote?! #fml #woeisme

12:19 p.m.: Lincoln says that the bill achieves her “principle” goal of lowering costs. “This legislaiton contains provisions that I’ve worked on for many years with my colleagues…there is no doubt in my mind that the cost of doing nothing is simply too high.

12:14 p.m.: I was wrong. Here comes Blanche Lincoln.

12:10 p.m.: Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the last Democrat during this first round of statements and questions, hails the bill as the only proposal on Capitol Hill that contains costs. Says he has “no interest” in voting for a bill that isn’t successful on that score.

12:05 p.m.: Menendez says he now thinks this is a fair bill for consumers and families, but complains that it still does not contain a public option. He also blasts the PWC/AHIP report as an 11th hour hit job. The Democrats are really taking aim at this today.

11:59 a.m.: Elmendorf makes the key point that a community rated health care system will generally make healthy people pay higher premiums than they did pre-reform, and sick people pay lower premiums.

11:57 a.m.: Another interesting note: Blanche Lincoln just stepped away from the dais. But she hasn’t said anything at all yet. Orchestrated reticence?

11:55 a.m.: Just a note about the generally suspicious nature about the health care industry complaining that legislation might make its product a). mandatory, and b). more expensive. If it were true, it would mean huge profits for them. That’s not something that you’d expect from a profit-driven enterprise–and yet one more data point showing that the PWC report was very wrong.

11:49 a.m.: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) defends the bill noting that, for all the assaults on taxes, etc., there will be a large hidden tax on the American people if health care reform doesn’t pass. This comes in response to an exchange between Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and the panel of witnesses about the potential impact of the excise tax on high end insurance. Basically, Republicans, like the good folks at PWC and AHIP, want to argue that the incidence of the excise tax will be such that people will end up paying more on average for insurance after the bill is enacted–not less.

11:38 a.m.: Ron Wyden has the floor now, making the point, as he does so often, that the key to reform is increased consumer competition, and this bill doesn’t do enough on that score. He’s unhappy with many aspects of the bill and with the process itself, from which he was mostly shut out. Let’s listen closely.

11:29 a.m.: Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is in the midst a general rage against the bill. I wonder whether, when he’s forced to buy insurance through his state exchange, his parents will pick up the tab.

11:24 a.m.: Mike Crapo opposes the bill on the ground that it spends money that’s raised from increased taxes. Hmmm…

11:12 a.m.: An hour in. Not to make too much of this, but it’s worth pointing out that the minority is out in force. Every Republican on the committee appears to be present and accounted for. At the same time, the only Democrats sitting in right now are Baucus, Rockefeller, Lincoln, Wyden, Bill Nelson, and Menendez.

11:11 a.m.: Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) criticizes the “stunning lack of transparency” in the drafting of the bill.

11:06 a.m.: Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) lowers the boom on health insurers and the fraudulent report they released yesterday, attacking the Finance bill “The insurance industry should be ashamed of [the PricewaterhouseCooper] report… it’s frankly a powerful argument for…a public plan.”

11:03 a.m.: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) reprises his role as Baucus’ chief antagonist. Currently the two are squabbling over whether exemption levels for the mandates will be indexed to inflation.

10:55 a.m.: Interrupting for a moment, it looks like PricewaterhouseCooper has admitted that the controversial report they released yesterday is accurate inasmuch as it analyzed only those provisions that would have the effect of increasing health insurance costs, without factoring in the countervailing provisions that would decrease those costs. It’s a bit like noting that the Red Sox scored six runs last night, without noting that the Angels scored seven, knocking the Sox out of the post-season.

10:49 a.m.: Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) asks Elmendorf about the cost-bending impact of the excise tax on high-end health care plans. Elmendorf notes that the CBO has not yet determined what the net impact of the bill will be on national health expenditures, though the excise tax will surely push it downward.

10:44 a.m.: OK, here comes Olympia Snowe–she opens by questioning Elmendorf about the risk that when the bill is converted to legislative language, the cost analysis could change, and the bill could be scored to cost more, or save less, or both. Elmendorf says, basically, that the onus is on legislators to make sure that the legislative language matches the plain-language, conceptual draft.

10:40 a.m.: Conrad reassures us that the bill does not create death panels. PHEW!

10:37 a.m.: Quoth Hatch, “It is interesting to note that though these tax increases and Medicare cuts will start as early as next year,” all the other goodies will have to wait until about 2013.

10:30 a.m.: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) takes the mic. “The bills that we have spent hundreds of hours working on will not be the bill we discuss on the floor.” Warns that the real bill will be written in “the dark corners” of the Capitol. I assume the lighting in the Majority Leader’s office will in fact be ample.

10:28 a.m.: In a back and forth with CBO chief Doug Elmendorf, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is giving insurance companies yet another whoopin’–this time for their failure to contain costs, and passing costs on to consumers.

10:23 a.m.: Grassley grouses “I do blame people outside of the committee for [this] process not working.”

10:20 a.m.: Grassley cautions against “further leftward movement” when the Finance bill is merged with competing legislation out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

10:19 a.m.: Grassley’s up now. Starts by saying “I wish I felt better about the substance of the bill.”

10:17 a.m.: Baucus boasts, “our plan would require members of Congress to buy health insurance from the same state-based exchanges” as their constituents. #emptygesture.

10:15 a.m.: Baucus says his bill “passes” the CBO test–plumps for it by noting that it would reduce the deficit in the near and long term.

10:14 a.m.: Baucus says, “It has been more than 22 years since the Finance Committee met for eight days” on a single bill.

10:12 a.m.: OK here we go. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) launches into his opening statement by quoting Ben Franklin. (No word on whether Franklin supports co-ops or triggers or a robust public option.)

10:10 a.m.: In a scrum with reporters a moment ago, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) said she still has not decided how she’ll vote today.

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