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Senate health care reform bill expected soon

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
Photo;AP?Harry Hamburg

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on Tuesday that the Senate’s health care bill may be unveiled as early as Wednesday. He is delaying release of the bill until the Congressional Budget Office completes its estimate of the cost of the bill. Once released, the Senate must vote to bring the bill to the floor for debate. Several Democrats are leaning toward not voting in favor of debate unless the bill is available for review for at least 72 hours.

Harry Reid has kept mum about what is in the bill, but reportedly the White House has been involved in the process. The bill has been finished for weeks, but Reid has refused to release it until the CBO estimate is complete. The bill is likely to rival the House bill in size, and many are frustrated that the Senate and American public were not allowed to review it while waiting for the estimate. It appears that once again, Americans will have to read and process 2,000 pages of legislation in 3 days.

Most believe that passage of the bill faces a rocky road. Several Democrats won’t vote for the bill if it has a public option, and Roland Burris of Illinois won’t vote for it if it doesn’t. With 60 votes needed to bring the bill to the floor, Reid will need all 58 Democrats and both Independents to vote in favor, since Republican support is not expected. Since 39 Democrats voted against the House bill, it is anticipated that Reid will have some work to do to get the bill to the floor.

Abortion is another issue in the bill that will be hotly debated. In order to get the votes necessary to pass the House bill, the Stupak Amendment was included, restricting the use of federal funds for abortion-related costs. In the Senate, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will introduce a similar amendment to the proposed health care bill. Such restrictions may result in Democrats voting against the bill.

In any event, it appears that President Obama intends to have the last word in the abortion debate. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said, “The president has said repeatedly, and he said in his speech to Congress, that he doesn't believe that this bill should change the status quo as it relates to the issue of abortion," He further stated, "This shouldn't be a debate about abortion. And he's going to work with Senate and the House to try and ensure that at the end of the day, the status quo is not changed ... I believe that there are discussions ongoing to how to adjust it accordingly."