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Senate Committee Set for Health Reform Vote

BY Dave Gustafson   October 8, 2009 at 2:44 PM EDT

Sen. Hary Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; photo by Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images

“Today we stand closer than ever to fulfilling that fundamental promise, the one for which we have fought for more than 60 years,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid told reporters.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office gave the committee’s health reform bill an upbeat assessment Wednesday, saying it would meet the president’s goal of reducing the federal budget deficit within a decade.

The CBO report put the overhaul’s total cost at $71 billion below Mr. Obama’s $900 billion goal, likely clearing the way for committee approval and an eventual debate on the Senate floor.

CBO chart

“Since Harry Truman was President, Democrats have fought to make it more affordable to live a healthy life in America,” Reid said, according to the New York Times. “Every day, we come closer to achieving that goal.”

The reforms aim to cut costs, regulate insurers and expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

If approved by the committee, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders will merge the Finance Committee bill with one passed by the Senate health panel earlier this year for consideration by the full Senate, possibly by the end of October.

The CBO said the committee’s version would cover 29 million more Americans while shrinking the budget deficit by slowing federal spending on medical care. The bill would reduce deficits by a total of $81 billion over 10 years starting next year, the CBO projected.

Even though coverage would be expanded, the CBO said about 25 million people – about a third of them illegal immigrants – would remain uninsured in 2019. Of non-elderly Americans, the percentage with insurance would rise to 94 percent in a decade up from 83 percent today.

Republicans, who have been critical of the Democratic reform proposals, said that process would reshape the bill again. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the CBO report “irrelevant.”

“What matters is that the final bill will cost about $1 trillion, vastly expand the role of government in people’s health care decisions, increase premiums and limit choice,” he said.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior GOP Finance Committee member, said the bill “spends nearly $1 trillion and still leaves 25 million people without health insurance. That’s not much bang for the buck,” he said, according to the Times.

Other Republicans pointed out that another CBO report showed the deficit tripling to a record $1.4 trillion in the 2009 fiscal year, which ended last week.

A bill moving through the House would cost more, but would create greater coverage, leaving 17 million people uninsured in 2019, the budget office said.

In the House, Democratic leaders are working to merge three health care bills into one that could be debated in the next few weeks. All three House bills include a government-run “public” insurance option.

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats’ discussions focused on the size and shape of a proposed government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers.

Pelosi, a strong supporter of a government-run option, said she would send three versions of the public option proposals to the CBO for cost estimates.

“I think it’s very clear from our conversations with the members that the votes are there for a public option,” she told reporters, according to Reuters.