- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

UPDATED:

The Democrats’ health care overhaul plan would cost $940 billion over the next decade and extend insurance coverage to 32 million Americans, according to a new preliminary estimate released Thursday.

The release of the numbers clears the way for a pivotal House vote Sunday to approve the already-passed Senate health care bill and an accompanying package of revisions that the Senate in turn will have to approve later.

Nervous congressional Democratic leaders seized on the new estimate, arguing it will help nail down the last undecided votes needed. “We loved their number,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

The long-awaited preliminary numbers from the Congressional Budget Office found that the plan would reduce the deficit by $138 billion over the next 10 years. That figure represents $20 billion more than the House’s original health plan passed late last year. The bill would cut the deficit by another $1.2 trillion in the second decade, according to the CBO.

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Republicans are skeptical that any reform plan this large could reduce the deficit and prompt savings.

Every time a new iteration of the Democrats health care bill is unveiled, the price tag goes up,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who is the minority whip. “The only thing that remains the same is that the American taxpayer will be on the hook to pay for it.”

Mrs. Pelosi is expected to release the legislative text of the companion bill Thursday afternoon.

House leaders have promised to hold a vote no sooner than 72 hours after the CBO report and full legislative text of the bill are released, meaning the vote will take place no sooner than Sunday.

Mr. Obama has postponed until June a trip to Asia in order to help corral votes.

Several uncommitted House Democrats said they were waiting to read the bill and the CBO analysis before they decided how they would vote.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Budget Committee, said upon hearing the preliminary figures that they were “outstanding” and could help ease concerns about costs. “I would think that would be of great interest to people concerned with the fiscal interest of the country,” he said.

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