Kent Conrad's Sneak Attack
Kent Conrad wants things his way. He's turning out to be as devious as anyone in the Senate. Brian Beutler reports on his effort to get the health care bill outside the window for reconciliation, which is the clear intent of this stalling tactic:
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) indicated today that there may be major delays in the health care process going forward. During today's health care hearing, he told CBO chief Doug Elmendorf today that the Senate Finance Committee must be provided with a complete CBO score of the final package before the panel can hold a vote on it.
"With respect to the issue of when scoring might be available, because...it is critically important that we have scoring before a final vote is cast in the committee," Conrad said, "it is important for us to know, once there is a package, after the amendment process here, can you give us some rough estimate, in days to have a CBO score."
How long will that scoring take?
Elmendorf estimated that the full reporting could take two weeks:
"I think we can update our preliminary analysis...within a few days of the package actually being set. A formal cost estimate would require...two weeks of work by us, once the package is settled."
Conrad ultimately suggested that the committee could hold its vote on the basis of the preliminary analysis, but that two week window would presumably still apply to progress beyond the committee's vote. It would, after all, take a similar amount of time to complete a final cost estimate of the package that ultimately comes to the Senate floor.
Kate Pickert has more on this, though she curiously removes Conrad's name from it. He does appear to be the prime mover. He never agreed with the option of reconciliation, and if he can push the bill past October 15, a sort of deadline for that process, he can assure that all the legislation would have to move through a 60-vote process. Since nobody is suggesting that a public option has 60 votes in the Senate, it would essentially doom that measure, and boost Conrad's preferred co-op option, which would give millions in seed money to Blue Cross of North Dakota, which has 90% of the state market, because they could conceivably as a non-profit pass for a co-op.
It's not that Conrad really cares about the score of every item in the health care bill - after all, when the CBO produces a score he doesn't like, he's happy to ignore it.
When the Star Tribune asked Conrad if he agreed with CBO director Doug Elmendorf's conclusion that, "They seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country," Conrad answered:
I do not agree with the Mr. Elmendorf's assessment on co-ops. Based on the advice of leading actuaries, we are providing enough federal seed money for these co-ops to insure 12 million Americans.
If Conrad doesn't care what the CBO assigns to his own preferred policies, why should it matter to get a complete score before voting the bill out of committee?
Conrad laid it on thick yesterday, trying to use the experience of countries like France, Germany and Japan - which do things like guarantee a baseline level of coverage for all citizens and ban insurance companies from making a profit - as proof that no government-run program is needed. But of course, Conrad's conception of health care reform bears no resemblance to those systems at all, and a public option offering baseline care at an affordable price actually does.
Harry Reid's still out there talking about reconciliation if 60 votes cannot be attained. Is it worse if he doesn't know that Conrad is pulling out the rug from him, or if he knows?
...Olympia Snowe supports this delay as well. Amazing that the two Senators with lots at stake in their own non-public option alternatives would want to delay the bill past the reconciliation window! Ezra notes that this kind of delay would be unprecedented in the history of the Finance Committee.
...This amendment was defeated. Blanche Lincoln voted with the minority, but Conrad didn't.