Senate Panel To Vote Tuesday On Health Bill

A Senate committee will vote on a sweeping health care overhaul next week, possibly clearing the way for a vote by the full body, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

Reid (D-NV) said the Senate Finance Committee will vote Tuesday on the legislation that the Congressional Budget Office has said would cost $829 billion over the next decade to expand coverage to 94 percent of eligible Americans. The committee is the fifth and last congressional panel to consider health care overhaul legislation this year.

The announcement on a vote comes a day after the nonpartisan CBO said the bill would meet President Obama's goal of reducing the budget deficit over 10 years.

But most Republicans have been bitterly opposed to it. Reid said it was time for "partisan protesters" to stop following a strategy of "distortion, distractions and deception," in an effort to confuse the American public about what is contained in the measure.

"There are still those who consider this a zero-sum game, and will only declare victory if President Obama concedes defeat," Reid said, adding that the country "has no place for those who wish for it or its leaders to fail."

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell shot back, calling 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 — and limit choice," he said.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said he is confident the overhaul legislation will pass the Senate. The House will vote on its own overhaul measure.

"It's an act that's [a] balanced, common-sense plan to improve health care — to control costs and thus extend the blessing of health care coverage to all Americans," Baucus said.

"Our bill would cut out fraud, waste and abuse in the health care system. That's going to help," he said. "Our bill would spread insurance risk over a much broader population, including younger, healthier people. That will clearly help."

The Baucus plan leaves out the controversial so-called public option, although a provision for a government-run health insurance alternative lives on in a House version of the bill. The Senate plan does not require businesses to offer coverage to their workers, although large firms that do not would be required to offset the cost of any government subsidies going to those employees.

Under the Baucus plan, Americans would be required to obtain health insurance beginning in 2013, through an employer or a government program or by buying it themselves. Failure to obey the requirement would result in penalties of up to $750 per family.

But it leaves about 25 million people uninsured once it is fully phased in, in 2019. Of those, nearly 17 million would be U.S. citizens or legal residents. Nearly 50 million U.S. residents now lack coverage. Absent any change, the budget office projected that would grow to 54 million in 2019.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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