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Baucus Says Health Reform Bill Has Enough Votes to Pass, Despite Criticisms

BY Lea Winerman  October 1, 2009 at 4:00 PM EDT

Max Baucus; Getty Images

The accusations came as the committee entered its seventh day of debating the bill, the panel’s longest deliberation in 15 years.

Despite the criticisms from Republicans, however, Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, said Wednesday he believes that the measure has enough support to pass in the committee. He said he expects to finish discussions Friday and vote next week.

On Thursday, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, proposed an amendment to get rid of all fees and penalties that would fall on individuals who earn less than $200,000 per year or families that earn less than $250,000. That would include a key penalty of $1,900 per year for people who fail to buy health insurance.

Baucus responded by calling the proposal a “message” amendment proposed just to score political points.

“This is an amendment that guts, kills health reform,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

On Wednesday, the panel voted down another Republican amendment, this one on abortion. The amendment, proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, would have tightened abortion restrictions in the bill. Currently, the bill says that no tax credits can be used to pay for abortions except in the cases of rape and incest — this is the same rule that the Department of Health and Human Services currently uses.

Private companies that offered abortion coverage would be required to pay for that coverage from a separate pool of money made up entirely of subscriber premiums.

Hatch’s amendment would have gone further. Arguing that money is fungible, his amendment would have required that no tax credit money be used to pay for “any part of the costs of a health plan that includes coverage of abortion.”

The amendment failed in a 13-10 vote that was mostly along party lines, with two exceptions. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine voted against it, and Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota voted for it.

The committee also approved in a 14 to 9 vote an amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida to protect a tax benefit for the elderly. Currently, taxpayers can take a tax deduction for any unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of income. Baucus’s bill would have raised that limit to 10 percent. Under Nelson’s amendment, people over 65 will be exempt from the new rule. Younger people will still pay more than $15 billion in new taxes over the next decade under the plan, according to the Washington Post.

The Finance Committee bill will likely be the basis of a compromise bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to craft next week. The final bill will combine the Finance Committee version with a version approved last month by the Senate health committee.