Senate Majority Leader Reid will share the details of his long-awaited healthcare overhaul bill with his Democratic Caucus today, according to his spokesman, Jim Manley.
Reid expects to receive final CBO scores before the 5 p.m. meeting, Manley said Tuesday. The bill release sets up a possible weekend vote on cloture on the motion to proceed.
Senators appeared Tuesday evening to at least have some details of the CBO analysis in hand.
"I've sort of been briefed on it, but I'm not going to talk about it until they release it to the media," Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin said when asked when CBO scores will come out.
Reid sent healthcare proposals to CBO more than three weeks ago. The leader, his staff and scorekeepers have had discussions over recent weeks to ensure those proposals fit the parameters President Obama laid out in his call for legislation that comes in with a price tag no higher than $900 billion that is fully paid for.
Not having seen the bill, some moderate Democrats said they were unsure how they will vote on cloture on the motion to proceed, which requires 60 votes.
Reid said Tuesday he feels "cautiously optimistic" Democrats will have the 60 votes needed to cut off a Republican filibuster on the motion to proceed to the bill.
But he appears short of votes to invoke cloture on the bill once it is on the floor due to objections by a few Democrats to a public insurance option that would allow states to opt out, a plan he has said will be included.
Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., is working on a "Plan B" public option alternative if the opt-out plan lacks the votes. Carper described the plan, which he has worked on with senators he declines to name, to CongressDaily last week, but offered additional details Tuesday. He said it would create what he called a "quasi-public" plan with a nonprofit board operating in states that fail to meet a yet-to-be determined affordability standard.
In those states, it would become available immediately the day that healthcare insurance exchanges created in the bill are up and running, he said. He repeatedly called his alternative the "hammer approach."
"The day we stand up the exchange, in the states that don't meet an affordability standard, this option would go up as an option on their exchange," Carper said.
HHS would help set up the option, with the HHS secretary potentially acting as an ex-officio member of a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed board. Aided by HHS, the board would "negotiate with providers in various states," Carper said.
Government involvement would eventually diminish, but when is unclear. Carper said he would prefer its role end once the plan starts operating.
He said the plan would likely receive "some additional startup money and maybe the ability to draw down on funds almost like a line of credit." He said it would be required to repay the yet-undetermined figure.
He added that the affordability standard and who would set it are still being worked out.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus said Tuesday he is encouraging liberals, who support Reid's opt-out public plan, and moderates to talk so they can find a solution on the overhaul that will garner 60 votes.
"In the past, they've not been talking very much," Baucus said.
Reid met Tuesday with House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer, to discuss scheduling as part of a regular bicameral leadership meeting. "The Senate's going to stay on health care and that's their major priority. That and jobs," Hoyer said as he left the meeting.
They did not discuss specifics of Reid's overhaul, Hoyer said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., attended the meeting but said they did not discuss abortion with Reid, though she and other liberals want to roll back House-passed language that prohibits the public plan or private plans offered to anyone who gets federal subsidies from covering abortion costs. DeLauro wants to maintain current law, which bans federal funds from being used to cover abortions.
Meanwhile, Senate aides said Tuesday that the bill is likely to include a priority for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. to create a new long-term care insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
This article appears in the November 21, 2009, edition of NJ Daily.