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Democrats Hope to Finish Writing Health Bill This Week

House and Senate Democratic leaders are working to finalize the language of a health care reconciliation bill by the end of this week in order to tee up the measure for passage in both chambers before the Easter break.

Several Democratic sources said the goal is to get a completed bill to the Congressional Budget Office for an official cost estimate by Friday, with a hope that CBO could score the bill within a week or so.

That would give Democrats time during the week of March 15 to vet the measure with the Senate Parliamentarian, who will be the final arbiter of whether the entire bill meets strict reconciliation rules that require all provisions to have a direct budgetary impact. Provisions that the Parliamentarian rules out of bounds can be stricken by a budget point of order, and 60 votes are needed to keep such language in the bill.

Senate and House Democrats are also expected to use the week of March 15 to float the measure among the rank and file to ensure there are enough votes for passage.

Once Senate leaders feel confident that the bill will not be subject to potentially crippling budget points of order raised by Republicans, the House would likely move forward with the health care reform bill approved by the Senate in December. Once the Senate measure has gone to the president, both chambers would be free to move forward with the reconciliation measure, which is intended to address several problems House Democrats have with the Senate bill.

Leaders hope the floor process in the House can begin by the week of March 22. The Easter recess is expected to begin March 29.

Though Senate debate on the measure is limited to 20 hours, voting on amendments is not limited, and Republicans have hinted they could stretch the process for weeks.

President Barack Obama largely endorsed the complicated process Wednesday. Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) special election win in January eliminated the Senate Democrats’ filibuster-proof supermajority, and unanimous GOP opposition in the chamber made it impossible for Democrats to pass a House-Senate conference report. The reconciliation bill is intended to replace the need for such a conference report.

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