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Healthcare reform got a lifeline this week when the Senate Finance committee passed the Baucus bill by 14 to 9. Democrats were thrilled that Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine cast a “aye” vote, but does that a bipartisan bill make?
It was good enough for President Obama, who thanked Snowe “for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she’s demonstrated throughout this process.”
Now, the really hard work begins. Next week, with the help of White House representatives, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and a team of senators and senior aides will start merging the Baucus bill with the one crafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already has begun work to merge three House bills into one that both liberals and centrists can support. Then, the two chambers must negotiate one final bill.
Alabama Rep. Artur Davis predicts that the biggest debate will be over how to pay for the legislation.
“That will be the most significant difference and there are two very different approaches,” he said. “The House approach is to pay for it by raising income taxes and putting business mandates in place. The Senate approach is provider cuts and cuts within the system that exists today. There’s going to be a very significant, philosophical debate.”
Bases of compromise, he added, are subsidy levels for individuals so the individual mandate doesn’t place a big burden on the middle class and the still-controversial public option.
Snowe will continue to play a pivotal role in the process, but that doesn’t mean she’ll vote aye again. As she said after the committee vote, “My vote today is my vote today,” she said. “It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow.”