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Durbin Says Timeline for Health Bill Depends on CBO

By Alan K. Ota, CQ Staff

November 3, 2009 -- Senate Democrats' hopes of finishing a comprehensive health care overhaul by year's end are slipping due to Republican opposition, the crowded legislative calendar and questions about the cost of the bill, says the Senate's No. 2 Democrat.

Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Tuesday that the future of the legislation partly rests on when leaders receive a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sent the complete legislative language of the bill to the CBO for scoring on Oct. 26.

"Are we going to finish by the end of the year? I'm going to have to answer a question with a question as any good politician. How soon will CBO get finished? . . . Our fate is in their hands," Durbin, D-Ill., said.

Unresolved questions—such as how to pay for the overhaul, how the plan's costs will be tallied and what kind of subsidies should be provided to low-income uninsured Americans—are only part of the Democrats' problems, Durbin said. He blamed Republicans for stalling action and pointed to several other legislative matters that he said must be resolved.

"If health care were the only issue this year, there's precious little time to do anything of that complexity," Durbin said. "But it's not the only thing we face: the omnibus appropriation bills, nominations, highway trust fund, debt ceiling, quite a few things."

However, Durbin brushed off speculation that Republican delays alone could push the health care debate into the 2010 election year, saying Reid would be able to press forward when he has a reliable cost estimate.

"He's waiting on a CBO report. . . . The Republican strategy is to eat up as much of the calendar as possible," Durbin said.

Reid said he was continuing to discuss the bill with CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf, but the majority leader expressed uncertainty about when CBO would send the Senate a report. Reid said he had no timeline for bringing he bill to the floor.

Reid's attempts to blend health care bills from the Finance (S 1796) and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (S 1679) committees have raised concerns about what miscellaneous provisions will be slipped into a final agreement. And moderates such as Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., remain concerned about the inclusion of a government-run insurance plan to complete with private health plans.

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