Could the Senate be on the Cusp of Blowing Another Health Care Deadline?

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Senate Democrats have been waiting on tenterhooks for a score from the Congressional Budget Office before they can introduce their health care reform bill and start the debate. Assuming the score comes today, the bill could be introduced as early as tomorrow. But, don’t get your hopes up for a vote any time soon. Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, has been pushing for 72 hours to allow the public and staff (and theoretically senators themselves) to read the bill before a vote. Lincoln, one of the most endangered Dem incumbents, is an essential moderate swing vote on the bill.

After the Senate caucus lunches today, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told reporters that Reid would grant Lincoln her time. Here’s some of Casey’s exchange with reporters:

Q. Did you learn anything on the timing of the health care bill?

A. One thing which I think was important that we just learned that I think is significant is that we’re going to have plenty of time to review what the majority leader presents in the merged bill. It’ll be days, not a day or two. Which is the way it ought to be and I think that should alleviate a lot of the concerns that some have raised that there wouldn’t be enough time even prior to the motion to proceed.

Q. So you’re not going to get the bill this week because days – and it’s already Tuesday — that would make it very unlikely, right?

A. I think that would be a very accurate assessment. A reasonably accurate assessment.

Q. Did [Reid] say that in there you won’t vote on the motion to proceed this week?

A. I think that was implicit from the time that we’ll spend reviewing what he presents.

Keep in mind — the votes here are votes on the motion to proceed, meaning to simply start the debate, not on final passage of the bill, which likely won’t come until Christmas-time at the earliest. Casey even hinted that debate might not begin until after Thanksgiving vacation — a delay that could push final passage back until after the New Year. Such a move would, though, appease a number of senators who have codels planned during this recess to visit troops or to go abroad. Scuttling or postponing such trips are often entail expensive security re-arrangements. “We’ll have plenty of time to review what the majority leader presents,” Casey said. “More time than anyone would’ve thought. Because we want to use our time at Thanksgiving wisely. Thursday to eat and then you review health care for the rest of your vacation.”

When asked by reporters when the vote will be held, Reid would only say, “We’re going to hold it as soon as we can.” But his office said they are confident of getting a vote before Thanksgiving recess – even if Reid must keep all senators here well into next week.