The Senate Finance Committee spent more than one hour Wednesday morning debating an amendment to a healthcare reform bill that would have required that the committee receive both the legal language and the final Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost and analysis of the bill before a full committee vote.
And in the course of the debate, Democrats may have lost one key Republican, who's vote many thought they had.
The measure, authored by Sen Jim Bunning, R-KY, was promptly defeated on a near partyline vote, with Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, a moderate, joining all of her Republican colleagues in arguing vociferously against committee tradition that normally allows "conceptual language," or bills written in plain English, and not the more technical "legislative language" required by law before final Senate passage, be used to conduct committee business. Any discrepancies between the two are then, theoretically, corrected by the chairman of the committee when the bill is taken up by the full Senate.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT, argued for tradition, offering an alternative amendment that requires the conceptual language and a full cost analysis by CBO, the nonpartisan budget arm of Congress. The amendment then passed on a partyline vote.
But Baucus may have done so to the detriment of bipartisanship. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, often a soft spoken member, grew angry and threatened that she would have to see the final legal language before she would vote for the bill. She read from a letter sent by CBO Director Doug Elmendorf to the chairman which said that merely using conceptual language would not result in a complete analysis by his office.
"I want to know what the final number (cost) is before I vote on any bill in this committee," Snowe said, adding, "This is about doing our jobs. If it takes two more weeks, it takes two more weeks...What is the rush?"
It seems certain Snowe will not get what she's asking for, so her committee support should now be gone. BUT -- that certainly does not mean she would not support the bill on the Senate floor