CBO Finds Heath Overhaul Will Cost $940 Billion Over 10 Years But Trim Deficit

Democratic leaders released on Thursday the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the latest health overhaul proposal and, later, the full legislative text, the Reconciliation Act of 2010.

Politico: "The Democratic health care bill would cost $940 billion over 10 years and cut the federal deficit over the next two decades." The reduction in the deficit "should help ease the worries of fiscal hawks who have been reluctant about supporting the sweeping measure. The bill would reduce the deficit by about $130 billion in the first 10 years and by $1.2 trillion over the second 10 years. It will expand coverage to 95 percent of Americans, according to Congressional Budget Office figures released Thursday by House Democrats." Changes to the Democrats proposal "would close the doughnut hole in the Medicare prescription drug program, boost subsidies for lower-income individuals to buy insurance and push back the implementation date of the tax on Cadillac insurance plans until 2018" (O'Connor and Budoff Brown, 3/18).

The Washington Post: The CBO's preliminary report "suggests the two-part legislation would bring the nation closer to universal health coverage than at any time in its history." CBO's estimates found that the measure "would make insurance available to an estimated 95 percent of non-elderly citizens by dramatically expanding Medicaid, the government health program for the poor, and offering tax credits to an estimated 24 million Americans who would otherwise find it difficult to afford coverage." The costs are paid for "by slicing nearly $500 billion from Medicare and other federal health programs. Democrats also propose taxing, for the first time, the health benefits of some people who receive coverage through employers." The measure, which was unveiled Thursday and will likely be voted on Sunday by the House, "also would increase Medicare payroll taxes for wealthy families, in part by applying the tax for the first time to investment income" (Kane and Montgomery, 3/18).

MarketWatch: "The cost figures are critical to winning support from fiscally conservative Democrats, whose reservations about the bill have forced the White House and Democratic leaders to work overtime to win votes. In the House, 216 votes are needed for passage. At latest count, Democrats were five votes short, MSNBC reported Thursday" (Schroeder, 3/18). 

CBS Political Hotsheet: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., outlined specific changes included in the Democrats' health reform package. "The new reform package amends the Senate health care bill through a separate, reconciliation 'fix it' bill that addresses some of the problems House Democrats had with the Senate bill." Among the changes outlined by the speaker were "corrections to 'state inequities' such as the 'Cornhusker kickback' deal" and "increased insurance regulations" (Condon, 3/18).

The Wall Street Journal: "The cost estimate gives Democrats a critical piece they need to win over wavering lawmakers on the bill. Many had said they were waiting for the CBO analysis before making up their minds. 'It took some time, but we're very pleased with our $1.2 trillion in savings,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. 'It's even more savings than the Senate bill.'"

"The release of CBO's analysis of the overhaul plan paves the way for a climactic vote as soon as Sunday on President Barack Obama's top domestic priority. The president was supposed to leave for a trip to Asia on Sunday, but has now postponed it until June so that he can be in Washington during the final health-care debate" (Adamy, 3/18).

MSNBC: President Obama hailed the CBO numbers, saying the estimates make "'this legislation the most significant effort to reduce deficits since the Balanced Budget Act in the 1990s. ... This is but one virtue of a reform that will bring new accountability to the insurance industry and greater economic security for all Americans, so I urge every member of Congress to consider this as they prepare for their important vote this weekend'" (Jones, 3/18).

CNN: "GOP leaders said the new CBO estimates had not changed their opinion of the bill, which they vehemently oppose. 'Republicans in the House and Senate have worked closely together over the last year. And we're going to continue to work closely together and to do everything that we can to do to make sure that this bill never, ever, ever passes,' House Minority Leader John Boehner said" (3/18).

The Hill: "The package considered by the CBO is the Senate healthcare bill and a package of changes to that legislation that must receive votes from the House and Senate." The release of the CBO score "sets into motion a 72-hour endgame on healthcare. Leaders have said they will give members 72 hours to review the legislation before a vote" (O'Brien and Allen, 3/18).

Roll Call: On the other side of the Capitol, "Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Thursday that it is unlikely the Senate will be able to pass a health care reconciliation bill unchanged from what the House passes." He said the Senate parliamentarian had not ruled on several issues that Republicans are likely to challenge and if he rules with the GOP, Senate Democrats will likely not be able to muster the 60 votes needed to waive the Republican objections. "If a point of order is sustained, the offending provision would be struck from the bill, and the entire measure would need to [be] passed again in the House before heading to the president for his signature" (Pierce, 3/18).

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