Sen. Baucus's Healthcare Proposal: 'Less Than a Trillion Dollars and Paid For'

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports:

But details are elusive.

The nonpartisan $1 trillion over ten year price tag that CBO slapped on part of the Kennedy health committee version of health care has apparently been instructive for the other committee writing a health care bill.

At the Senate Finance Committee, which is also drafting a health care bill, they’re keeping everything under wraps, out of the public view, and behind closed doors.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, and the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on a separate but related version of health care reform, admitted today that a past proposal by his committee was estimated by CBO to cost $1.5 trillion over ten years.

But Baucus said today things have changed since that CBO estimate two weeks ago. When will we know his final proposal? It’s still not clear. The Finance Committee is supposed to begin a markup of their bill this week.

A Democratic Finance Committee staffer said today that whatever the Senate Finance Committee ultimately produces “will cost less than a trillion dollars and it will be fully paid for.”

Which is to say that whatever money it aims to spend will be offset with cost savings and tax hikes elsewhere. The big question remains: what cost savings and what tax hikes? Will it be an end to tax-free health benefits? Just rich people’s tax benefits?

President Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd, who is acting as absent Sen. Teddy Kennedy’s right hand man on health care, both say they don’t like the idea of taxing health benefits as income to pay for a health care overhaul. But Baucus has endorsed the idea in the past.

Does the relatively low cost promised for Baucus’ Finance Committee proposal mean he and other moderates will pursue a system of non-profit co-ops to stand in for the government-fun public insurance option that many other Democrats prefer?

Republicans are starting to complain they won’t even get a chance to read through wholesale health care overhauls before being asked to vote on them.

At about 14:40 on the Senate floor, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who sits on both of the committees writing health care legislation, that Republicans seem to be intentionally obfuscating the process.“I said that it's hard to digest all of this in 30 hours. this is not digestion. this is not indigestion. this is heartburn, and it may develop into a malady much more serious than that. most egregious, perhaps, is the fact that we will most likely be considering these major reforms without any idea of how much they will cost or how they will affect the current system,” Roberts said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has become a chief opponent of a public health insurance plan, said his caucus will need time to review health care proposals.

“I think what we can say about the health care debate at this point is it's in a rather chaotic state,” McConnell said after a meeting with other Republicans. “We don't have bills. We don't have scores. And at the same time the majority is saying we need to act quickly. I think it would be highly irresponsible in the extreme to take up a bill that affects 16 percent of the economy without bill language, without scores, and on a rapid time frame for action. The American people are just beginning to figure out what the majority may have in mind. We need to give them a chance to react and to speak to us about how they feel about the direction this is taking.”

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