Stabenow Says It's ‘Critical’ That CBO Provide Full Cost Estimate of Final Health Care Bill Before Senate Votes on It

By Nicholas Ballasy | October 16, 2009 | 5:45 PM EDT

( – Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said it is “critical” that the final legislative language of the health care bill in the Senate be scored by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for a full cost estimate before it goes to the floor for a vote.
Her comments were made after the committee passed a 259-page summary or “plain text” version of the health care bill.
The full legislative language of the bill was not produced. so the CBO was only able to score the “plain text” version, as many members describe it. The CBO told the Finance Committee in an Oct. 7 report that the available version, or “Chairman’s Mark” as amended, “has not yet been converted into legislative language.
The review of such language could lead to significant changes in the estimates of the proposal’s effects on the federal budget and insurance coverage.”

As previously reported, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will now combine the Senate Finance Committee bill with a similar bill from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to create one final bill, which Stabenow said should be scored by the CBO before it goes to the floor for a vote. “Do you think it’s wise for the Finance Committee to pass a bill out of committee before the full legislative language is reviewed by the CBO for a more accurate cost estimate?”
Stabenow: “Well, it’s critical we have a full cost estimate when this goes to the floor, and we had the initial cost estimate. Now we’re going to combine this with the HELP bill, and once both of those are together, it’s very, very important that we have complete legislative analysis as well as language that will explain each of the policies and the CBO score, and we’ll get that.” “Will the CBO score be done with the bill that’s combined with the HELP and Finance Committee – that final bill – will that be done in an ample amount of time for the public to review the bill and see how much it is going to cost before it is passed?”
Stabenow: “Well, it’s absolutely critical that the people of the country see and analyze and make their opinions heard. I have an ongoing health care resource center on my Web site as well as the health care people’s lobby. The minute that anything is made available to the public, we put it right up on my site. So the people of Michigan have been having access as everything is hot off the press. I’ll continue to do that, and we need to make sure that that happens.”
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Sept. 22, CBO Director Doug Elmendorf said it would take up to two weeks for the CBO to do a full cost assessment of the shorter “plain text” version of the bill.  
But Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) told Elmendorf, “We can’t operate this way” and said the time frame was “unacceptable.”
“I assure you, senator, we will be working as fast as we can,” but “that process invariably takes more time than people like me and you guess it will up front,” said Elmendorf.