Finance Senators Debate A Range of Issues Including Timing, Transparency

The Finance Committee resumed its mark-up of a proposal authored by its chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Wednesday, with much of the debate gravitating to amendments concerning speed, timing and transparency. Republicans sought to delay the vote, while Democrats argued for a compromise that would bring the committee's deliberations to a swifter conclusion. The panel also rejected a Medicare Advantage measure.

The Wall Street Journal: "The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday defeated an amendment ... that likely would have spared private Medicare Advantage plans from any subsidy cuts under the bill." Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, offered the amendment, which "would have required a certification that the bill's section on privately run Medicare plans, which are known as Medicare Advantage plans, would not result in any benefit reductions from those who are enrolled in the private plans. If it was found that benefit reductions would occur, the bill's language on Medicare Advantage would be eliminated." The measure was defeated 14-9, with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, voting with all of the panel's Democrats against it (Yoest, 9/23).

MSNBC: The committee's Democrats beat back by one vote a GOP amendment to delay the bill's passage until the Congressional Budget Office's final analysis has been made public for 72 hours. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., sided with Republicans. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the only Republican to signal she may still support the overhaul, voted to delay the vote, arguing, "We shouldn't be afraid of transparency, we shouldn't be afraid of accountability, we shouldn't be afraid of the numbers and the facts" (9/23).

The New York Times: A dueling amendment by Sen. Baucus required that the proposal be available to public in advance of a vote, but only in conceptual language. It's the Finance Committee's standing practice to vote on such language, because they often consider "arcane" bills related to the tax code. Staff members then typically convert proposals into legislative language (Herszenhorn, 9/23).

Wall Street Journal: "Democrats argued that the Republicans were simply trying to delay the vote and that working off conceptual language made it easier to slog through tough issues. 'I don’t know any committee that's been more transparent than this committee,' Baucus, a Montana Democrat, told the committee" (Adamy and Hitt, 9/23).

Associated Press: Republicans argued that the Obama administration has made transparency a key goal. Democrats countered that delaying the vote until a CBO report becomes available could mean postponement for weeks (Espo and Alonso-Zaldivar, 9/23).

Associated Press/Washington Post: In addition to the procedural fight, Finance senators argued about the bill's potential impact on seniors. Republicans said $500 billion in Medicare cuts would reduce benefits under the program. The Congressional Budget Office director made the same point yesterday, speaking specifically about private managed care plans that participate in Medicare and extend additional benefits to their members. Democrats insisted that it would be a net gain for seniors because it would lower overall health care costs (Werner, 9/23).

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