As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, October 05, 2009

Senate Finance Committee Final Vote Delayed

Any guesses as to why this is happening?

Early in the amendment process, the panel agreed not to hold a vote until a preliminary analysis on the legislation's cost-saving potential was available, and it appears as if the CBO will not complete its work until later in the week. That would touch off yet another delay--one that's likely to frustrate Democrats and liberal activists, who've grown impatient over the glacial pace of reform efforts.

Maybe everyone's waiting for the final CBO score. But I have a couple other theories. One is that the Committee needs some time for the White House to twist the arms of Democrats wary of approving the bill for various reasons. Jay Rockefeller and Ron Wyden are particularly upset about the fate of some of their amendments in the markup, and could take it out on the bill. If both of them refuse to support the bill, it won't pass, in all likelihood, unless Olympia Snowe votes for it.

Although Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he has the votes to pass the 10-year, $900 billion bill out of the committee, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) remained undecided Sunday. If all 10 Republicans on the panel vote no, two Democratic defections would be enough to send Baucus and the Obama White House scrambling to regroup.

"More needs to be done to hold insurance companies accountable, to hold premiums down for the American people," Wyden said in an interview Sunday. "I want to continue these discussions."

Committee defeat of the bill is an unlikely scenario, but one that highlights the power every Senate Democrat -- and perhaps a few Republicans -- holds going forward in a process that could stretch beyond Thanksgiving.

I think Wyden and Rockefeller think they can improve the bill down the road. But the maximum leverage is right now, before the committee vote. So they're withholding their support until they can wring some concessions. Ultimately, Baucus will probably get his votes, but he'll need a little more time. Jon Cohn looks at the five key swing votes on the Committee - Rockefeller and Wyden, plus Bill Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Olympia Snowe.

I have a guess that there may be another factor, however. Kent Conrad has made no secret of his disdain for the reconciliation possibility. If it did go that route, requiring only 50 votes, we may end up with a bill that, in some key parts, wouldn't even get Conrad's vote. So he's been trying to sabotage it for some time. The more the delays continue, the more that the deadline of October 15 for reconciliation comes into play. Before long, the Senate committees would have to begin that process. Conrad doesn't want that to happen. Neither does Baucus, in all likelihood, since it would lessen the power of his more centrist bill. And they've been delaying ever since. Given that there are so many issues that will need to be decided by the leadership when they merge the bills, the Finance Committee has probably already delayed the vote long enough to make reconciliation an impossibility. Mission accomplished.

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