While the Congressional Budget Office gave a fiscal thumbs up to the Senate Finance Committee’s health care legislation, it included an important disclaimer: the estimates were only preliminary, and could change significantly once the current draft of the bill is converted from plain English into legislative language. But the Democrats have already blocked an effort to wait for the legislative language for a vote on the bill.
“CBO and JCT’s analysis is preliminary in large part because the Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been embodied in legislative language,” CBO Director Doug Elmendorf wrote his a letter to Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
Later in the letter, under a section titled “Important Caveats Regarding This Preliminary Analysis,” Elmendorf cautioned: “The Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been converted into legislative language. The review of such language could lead to significant changes in the estimates of the proposal’s effects on the federal budget and insurance coverage.”
Last month, Democrats on the committee killed an amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Bunning that would have required the committee to have the actual legislative language of its health care bill evaluated by the CBO before voting on it. It failed by a 12-11 vote, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln the lone dissenting Democrat.
“Let’s be honest about it, most people don’t read the legislative language,” Sen. John Kerry said at the time.
The reason this could prove significant is that Sen. Olympia Snowe — the one Republican who could potentially vote the bill out of committee — was a strong advocate of waiting for legislative language.
“The American people are rightly entitled to see what we are legislating and we should not be afraid of having a better and more complete understanding of exactly what we are doing,” Snowe said in a statement last month. “The fact is words matter and so do the numbers. This amendment represents a common sense, practical, pragmatic, good government approach to understanding the totality and the collective impact of what we do. We want to be sure that we are absolutely confident in the integrity of the product that we are going to be voting on in the final analysis.”