PI Original Adam Doster Wednesday November 4th, 2009, 4:50pm

Health Care Roundup: Final Bill By Christmas, Halvorson Commits, Costello And Lipinski Waffle

The latest news from the health care reform battle -- both in D.C. and here on the homefront.

A Final Bill By Christmas?

Now that health care legislation has passed out of the five relevant
committees on Capitol Hill, health care advocates are starting to
wonder ...

The latest news from the health care reform battle -- both in D.C. and here on the homefront.

A Final Bill By Christmas?

Now that health care legislation has passed out of the five relevant committees on Capitol Hill, health care advocates are starting to wonder when both chambers of Congress will take up the bills in earnest. While House leaders are moving quickly, Illinois' own Dick Durbin says that progress might be slower in the Senate. The Hill has a quick story up today outlining the reasons for the possible delay:

Even while House leaders pressed forward for a vote on a House version this week, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and Durbin said their hands are tied until the CBO releases its cost estimate of the Senate bill. Then the document would be published online for public review, possibly revised and re-analyzed by the CBO, and then several weeks would be needed for House-Senate conference talks.

Despite months-old predictions of a bill before Christmas, with only six weeks of legislative time remaining in the year Durbin acknowledged a healthcare bill in 2009 “is certainly a challenge.”

Will Sen. Roland Burris join Durbin and vote in favor of health care reform when he's eventually presented with the final bill? In the past few weeks, Illinois' junior senator has received heaps of media attention for his principled stance in favor of a robust public option. But the vast majority of those media outlets have failed to ask him the most relevant question: Does he intend to filibuster a bill lacking a public option or just vote against its final passage. All indications are that he would stand with his party and approve cloture, undercutting the severity of his threat:

"It's certainly going to be tough, in terms of getting this done," [Burris] told WGN-TV. "I've let it be known unequivocally that I would not support any legislation -- now they may get the 60 votes to pass it. I'm not going to be an obstructionist. I'm not here for some ego trip. I'm here to speak out for the people who have spoken to me."

Unfortunately, Sen. Joe Lieberman's threat seems very real. Yesterday, Reid's office denied reports that the lawmakers agreed in private to vote for cloture on health care. If no Republicans cross the aisle, the Democrats will need Lieberman's support to break a filibuster, a obstructionist tactic he has previously called "unfair."

Abortion Funding

While the Senate moves forward cautiously, the House is barreling ahead, preparing to vote on a final bill Saturday at about 6 p.m ET. To secure the support of some moderate and conservative Democrats, including Illinois Reps. Jerry Costello and Dan Lipinski, House leadership is making several changes to the bill that would explicitly prevent public funding for abortion.

This compromise shouldn't be necessary. The House tri-committee bill does not threaten the Hyde Amendment, which forbids Medicaid from using any federal money to pay for an abortion procedure. And earlier this summer, Democratic leaders backed a provision prohibiting people from using the public subsidies provided under the bill to buy private insurance plans that cover abortion. That's part of the reason why pro-choice organizations consider the current law a disappointment.

But that bloc of 40 legislators could torpedo the final bill if their concerns aren't addressed, so the Democratic leadership is doing all they can to pacify their concerns.

What's the solution? Guaranteeing the availability of insurance plans on health insurance exchanges that do not cover abortions is one option. The Times reports that a deal is close. We'll know more details in the coming days.

Halvorson A Yes, Costello A Maybe

Even if a compromise on abortion is reached, Rep. Costello still won't say whether or not he will vote in favor of the bill. In an interview with the Belleville News-Democrat, a spokesperson refused to commit, saying his boss is "taking a look at it and considering everything."

Rep. Debbie Halvorson, on the other hand, has made up her mind. On Tuesday night, the Crete Democrat said she plans to support the newest health care bill unveiled this week, in part because this version includes a weaker public option:

The legislation also would reduce the deficit by roughly $30 billion over the next 10 years, she said.

"I needed to make sure the new bill was deficit neutral," she said. "My priority has been to bring together a bill that was going to work and wasn't going to be a job-killer."

Halvorson made health care one of the key issues in her congressional campaign last year, running ads highlighting her opponents' downplaying of the coverage crisis (first reported here).

Costello's Constituents

While it's still unclear where Costello stands on the issue, it is obvious that households in his district will continue to face perilous physical and economic choices if no action is taken on reform. A new report issued today by AFSCME Council 31 drives home that point. Using data compiled by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, the public employees union estimates that 9,800 seniors from Rep. Costello’s district fall into the Medicare prescription drug donut hole and 40,000 lack insurance coverage. Nine thousand of those were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. And just this past year, 1,700 families in the 12th district filed for medical bankruptcy.

Council 31 crunched the data for other Illinois Democrats who remain the fence, including Reps. Lipinski, Halvorson, Bill Foster, and Melissa Bean. Check out the full research below (click the "Fullscreen" link to expand):

AFSCME Health Care Report

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