Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mid-week update

A group of sixteen Republican members of Congress have written a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair asking for a hearing or markup of the House leadership's health care reform bill, HR 3962, concerning the bill's impact on the FEHB Program. I think that it would be a good idea to slow down this bill for a number of reasons, including this one.

At the beginning of this decade, Congress passed a well meaning law which created the TRICARE for Life program. This law had a significant impact on the FEHB Program because many veterans become federal employees after leaving the service, and the TRICARE for Life program caused those veterans to leave the FEHB Program. It's the second bounce of the ball that can catch you off guard. The House bill allows federal employees to jump out of the FEHBP Program to join a qualified health plan in the Exchange. As this CBO report illustrates, it's hard to predict how the H.R. 3962 ball will bounce.

Nevertheless, I doubt that the request will be honored because the House Rules Committee is setting a rule on HR 3962 and the Managers Amendment on Friday afternoon and according to the Hill newspaper the House will vote on HR 3962 on Saturday evening. The Wall Street Journal explains tonight that

As of Wednesday, House leaders didn't appear to have secured the 218 votes they need to pass the bill. They were moving to quickly swear in two Democrats elected Tuesday, which would give the party 258 seats in the House and allow leaders to lose as many as 40 Democratic votes without losing their majority. No Republicans are expected to vote for the bill.

House leaders are targeting the vote for late Saturday so they have time to shore up support and set voting rules while still giving members a full week at home for Veterans Day, which falls next Wednesday. While the schedule could slip some, leaders are reluctant to push the vote beyond the holiday. A lull could expose it to attacks from Republicans and a more-than-$10 million advertising campaign by employers that slams the legislation for raising taxes during a bad economy.

The House Republicans have proposed a substitute for H.R. 3962 which is available for review on the House Rules Committee website. (It's only 230 pages long.) The CBO report on the substitute measure provides a helpful analysis if you are interested.

The Politico and other sources report that the Senate is working at a slower pace.
On Monday, [Sen. Majority Leader Harry] Reid sent a letter to Republicans acknowledging that he is waiting on the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates and analysis to finish drafting a bill. Democrats signaled that those estimates would not be ready this week, casting further doubt on their ability to finish reform this year.
Time will tell.

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