As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prepares to unveil his health care bill to Democrats at 5 p.m. today, President Obama has moved away from a year-end deadline to finish the health care bill, telling NBC that he expects to sign a bill by his State of the Union address, typically at end of January. But Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, would not predict on CNN yesterday that Democrats would even get it done by then.
Should Reid release his bill tonight with a preliminary score by the Congressional Budget Office, he’ll need to obtain 60 votes on a motion to proceed, allowing the bill to be brought to the floor. He was hoping to hold that vote this week, but it’s not clear whether he even has the votes for this first procedural hurdle, and Republicans have a number of delaying tactics at their disposal. Today, the Senate GOP is reminding everybody of a letter sent by eight Democrats last month demanding a full CBO score before any procedural vote on the bill — but the estimate expected later today will be preliminary. In addition, Sen. Tom Coburn may demand that the entire bill be read on the Senate floor, but Jonathan Cohn at TNR notes that Reid could respond by leaving the Senate open on Thanksgiving week, allowing Republicans who are so inclined to read the bill then.
Even assuming Reid has the votes to get the bill to the floor, the actual debate and amendment process won’t commence before Nov. 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving. Reid and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have said that they intend to close Congress for the year on Dec. 18 — giving them just 19 days, including weekends, to work with. Keep in mind they still have to pass a number of appropriations bills, and Hoyer is now promising an additional jobs bill, essentially another stimulus package.
Should Reid pass something in the Senate during this narrow window, the bill still has to be reconciled with the House version, and then it must pass both chambers again. But should the Stupak language and/or the government-run plan ultimately get stripped, it suddenly changes all of the vote calculations in the House.
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