Health Care Reform Continues March through Congress

July 17, 2009 ( - Two U.S. House committees have now joined with a Senate panel in approving a version of health care reform - with two more Congressional panels still set to take up the issue.

As the House rushed to report out a health reform bill before its summer recess next month, the House Education and Labor Committee and theHouse Ways and Means Committee approved the measure. They joined the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), which okayed the measure on Thursday, but by a party-line vote.  

According to media reports, the latest Congressional balloting included:

  • A 26 to 22 House Education and Labor Committee vote with three Democrats voting against the measure.
  • A 23 to 18 House Ways and Means Committee approval with three Democrats voting no.

The bill won approval by the Senate HELP Committee on a 13 to 10 vote (see  U.S. Senate HELP Panel First to Report out Health Reform Measure ).

A Pre-Break Vote?

After the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California)  told reporters the House was on schedule to take up a health reform measure before leaving town for the summer. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nevada), has said he hopes to have a health care bill on the floor by July 27.

Panels still working on the bill included the HouseEnergy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

According to news media reports, deliberations on the Senate finance panel have effectively stalled as members workon how to pay for their bill, expected to cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years.

A New York Times report said Democrats who voted against the bill cited such concerns as the tax increases, their effect on small businesses and the possibility that a new government-run health insurance bill might underpay doctors and hospitals by using Medicare reimbursement rates. The Times account indicated that HELP Committee Republicans described the idea of a new public insurance option in the bill as a deal-breaker. They said they still hoped that a consensus bill would emerge from the Senate Finance Committee.

CBO Concerns

Fueling concerns about the costs and/or efficacies of these proposals, Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf told lawmakers on Thursday legislation to expand health care coverage would increase federal healthcare costs “to a significant degree” and revenue will need to be found to keep from increasing the deficit.   Asked by the House Ways and Means Committee about his remarks to a Senate committee earlier that day that the legislation would not hold down healthcare costs, he said, “The point I made earlier this morning is that it raises future federal outlays more than it reduces future federal outlays.”

According to Reuters, Elmendorf told the panel, “The coverage proposals in this legislation would expand federal spending on health care to a significant degree and in our analysis so far we don’t see other provisions in this legislation reducing federal health spending by a corresponding degree.”

  More about the House Education and Labor Committee vote is available  here . More about the House Ways and Means Committee vote is available  here . The text of the bill is available  here .