Democrats were hoping that the Congressional Budget Office would release its analysis of the merged Senate health care bill by the end of this week, allowing Harry Reid to bring the bill to the floor as early as next Monday. But now it looks like the CBO report won’t be completed until early next week, making it harder for Reid to introduce the bill before Thanksgiving-week recess, which starts Monday Nov. 23. Unlike in the House, the minority party in the Senate has many more ways to delay legislation. And Reid will need to get 60 votes in order to proceed to a debate on the bill, which then will trigger an arduous amendment process, after which Reid would need to meet another 60 votes to cut off debate and vote on a revised bill. The health care debate is expected to take several weeks at a minimum. Just to put things in context, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted on Fox this week:
To give you a timetable in the Senate, we spent four weeks last Congress on a farm bill. Within the last 10 years, we’ve spent eight weeks on an energy bill. This will be a multi-week, many-amendment process in the United States Senate on a bill of this magnitude, which seeks to reorganize one sixth of our economy.
And given the public statements of Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, as well as other moderate Democrats, there’s still serious doubt about whether Reid will be able to meet the several 60-vote thresholds. Even if it somehow clears the Senate, the bill would still have to be reconciled with the House version in conference, and then pass both chambers again.
Earlier this week, the Hill reported that Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, a supporter of the legislation, conceded that Christmas was an “ambitous” deadline, and that “virtually every variable in the complicated and protracted debate would have to fall the right way for the House and Senate to produce a final bill by year’s end.”
Well, with the CBO taking longer than the Democrats’ hoped, it seems at least one variable has fallen the wrong way.