Senate Democrats look to start health reform debate next week


The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to finish its cost analysis of the Senate bill by the end of this week or early next.

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Senior aides and senators say Democrats plan to pivot quickly and file the first procedural vote as early as Monday. A “motion to proceed” vote, which brings the bill to the floor, would require 60 votes — a first, critical test of the caucus’s unity on procedural votes.

Senators don’t expect any momentum from Saturday’s successful 220-215 House vote, however. They say the most realistic scenario is for a Senate vote by Christmas followed by final passage in mid-January.

That would allow sufficient time for House-Senate conference talks and final House-Senate votes during January’s first weeks. Such a scenario would also put final passage around the time of President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaDem senator: Trump thinks LGBT stands for 'Let’s Go Back in Time' Inauguration singer to Trump: Meet with me and my transgender sister NY attorney general: Transgender students to be protected despite withdrawal of Obama regulations MORE’s State of the Union address.

“I’m optimistic about that,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert MenendezSteve Mnuchin, foreclosure king, now runs your US Treasury Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Senators to Trump: We support additional Iran sanctions MORE (N.J.) said of such a timetable.

Congressional leaders have continually delayed deadlines for healthcare reform’s final passage. Early in the year, Democrats were predicting a midsummer vote, then rescheduled it for just before the August recess. When that proved impossible, they proposed a final vote this fall or by the end of the year. Obama, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJill Biden to chair board of Save The Children Ellison holds edge in DNC race survey Top union offers backing for Ellison in DNC race MORE have all recently touted the year-end deadline.

More mindful of the bill’s difficulty in the Senate, however, Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidHopes rise for law to expand access to experimental drugs If Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief MORE (D-Nev.) last week initially declined to endorse another specific deadline, simply saying he prefers “no timetables” but then re-emphasizing the year-end goal. On Monday, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid “continues to work with the Obama administration to get a bill done by the end of the year.”

Watching from across the aisle, Republicans note the various missed deadlines and say they doubt Democrats can pull off a year-end deadline for final passage.

“Remember in July, when it had to be done by the August break? Then it was expected to come up right after Labor Day and it wasn’t, and here we are three months later,” said Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator grilled over DeVos vote during town hall Big Pharma must address high drug prices ­ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate MORE (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. “What’s happening is they’re finding out how difficult it is to put a bill together. They’re learning what [Finance Committee Chairman] Max BaucusMax BaucusFive reasons why Tillerson is likely to get through Business groups express support for Branstad nomination The mysterious sealed opioid report fuels speculation MORE [D-Mont.] and I went through in May, June and July.”

With so many complexities still revolving, some Democrats are even reluctant to predict when a bill could cross the finish line. Asked on Monday about his confidence that a bill could be finished by year’s end, Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) simply said, “It’s possible, but I don’t want to speculate.”

Other Democrats suggested the conference is deeply split on which timetable to select.

“There’s a lot of moving parts here,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats. “We’re waiting on the CBO, then it depends on Reid. Then some people say [debate] will start after Veterans Day, some people say it won’t start until Thanksgiving and some people think we can get it done between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s the goal. It’s possible still, but it depends on a spirit of compromise.”

“The Senate will definitely get a bill on healthcare reform by [Christmas],” said Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (D-N.C.). “Beyond that, I don’t know.”