Health Care Debate Snarled Over Language

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., then tried to interpret, saying Conrad had read something having to do with CMS reimbursement rates. It wasn't clear if Roberts was literally interpreting the legislative language or if he was just trying to make a point about how confusing it is to deal with the Medicare administrator. In any event, he was wrong. It had to do with changes to the Medicare Advantage program. Take a look at some other Finance Committee legislative language here:

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said he relies on summaries of legislative language, but it's important to have the legislative language so that summaries can be written off the legislative language instead of vice versa. Summaries, Crapo said, are "somebody's attempt to make plain English out of legislative language."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, supported Bunning's amendment. She is the Democrats' best hope for a Republican to support a comprehensive health reform package. But today she said she wants to see some legislative language.

"Legislative language matters to the CBO. And if it matters to the CBO, it should matter to us," she said. "This is all about good government."

Snowe has long complained that Democrats are anxious to pass their health reform language this year. She wants to take more time to consider it and see the full legislative language.

Yesterday, Douglas Elmendorf, the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office frustrated Baucus and Democrats when he told them it would take up to two weeks after he received full legislative language to achieve a final, complete guess at what the health reform bill would cost. His most recent estimate has the bill at $774 billion, but with a net $49 billion reduction on the federal deficit after 10 years, when new fees and tax increases associated with the bill are realized.

Elmendorf said that the translation into legislative language would likely affect those numbers.

Baucus, who said the legislative language could be tweaked to come in line with the conceptual language, argued today that Bunning's request was just a delaying tactic, since whatever bill the Finance Committee passes -- be it in conceptual or legislative language -- will promptly be rewritten when it is woven together with a bill passed over the summer by the Senate health committee, and sent in tandem to the Senate floor.

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