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Democrats' health care plan gets would cut budget deficit, Congressional Budget Office says

WASHINGTON — Democrats on Thursday unveiled the completed version of the health care legislation they intend to bring to a vote on Sunday, saying it will reduce insurance costs, provide more Medicare drug benefits and reduce federal deficits.

House Democrats said their prospects for passage were helped by an assessment released Thursday by the Congressional Budget Office that showed the legislation would reduce federal budget deficits by $138 billion over the next 10 years.

President Barack Obama again delayed his trip to Asia. He had postponed his departure to Sunday, but White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would stay in Washington because health care was of "paramount" importance. The president originally was supposed to leave Thursday. Now the White House says he will visit Indonesia and Australia in June.

Democratic leaders still appeared to be short of the 216 votes needed for passage, but support for the legislation was growing. Democrats control 253 House seats.

Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee, a moderate Democrat who is retiring at the end of the year, announced he would vote in favor of the bill after opposing an earlier version. He did so as Democratic leaders included in their revisions a provision worth an estimated $99 million over two years in higher Medicaid payments to Tennessee hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured.

Rep. Betsy Markey, a first-termer from Colorado, quickly followed, citing improved deficit cuts.

That made three conversions in recent days, following liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, with the White House and congressional leaders in search of more.

As Democrats unveiled final alterations to the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted it "will make history and we will make progress by passing this legislation."

Republicans countered quickly, saying the revisions raised the levels of planned Medicare cuts and would mean higher taxes.

"The Senate bill that Speaker Pelosi said Democrats are so afraid to take a vote on cut Medicare by $465 billion. This latest bill increases those cuts by about $60 billion more," said the Senate Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"How about taxes? The Senate bill that Democrats are so afraid to take a vote on raises taxes by $494 billion. This bill increases those tax hikes by at least $150 billion," McConnell said.

House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio said, "The American people are saying, 'Stop' and they're screaming at the top of their lungs."

The legislation proposed by the Democrats is meant to expand health care to 32 million uninsured, bar the insurance industry from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, affect nearly every American and remake one-sixth of the national economy.

The measure also erases a Senate-passed provision to give Nebraska a greater share of Medicaid funds than other states. Republicans had made that politically radioactive, calling it a Cornhusker Kickback, and it was one of the reasons most often cited by in recent weeks by rank-and-file House Democrats unhappy they were being asked to approve a Senate-passed bill they disdained.

As lobbying intensified Thursday, House Democratic leaders unveiled 153 pages of last-minute changes. According to an outline provided by Pelosi's office, key points include:

• Ending the Medicare prescription-drug coverage gap. Medicare drug plans now stop paying for prescriptions each year once the government and the consumer have spent $2,830 on them.

• Broadening the reach of the Medicare payroll tax to cover wealthier people's unearned income, such as capital gains, dividends and interest.

• Picking up all state costs of Medicaid, the state-federal program for lower-income people, from 2014 to 2016.

This report includes information from the Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers and the New York Times.

$940 billion

price tag for the new insurance coverage provisions in the bill over 10 years

$138 billion

reduction of future federal deficits over 10 years

$32 billion

amount to be raised over 10 years from a new excise tax on high-cost, employer-sponsored insurance policies

$118 billion

amount to be raised from a 3.8 percent tax on "unearned income" such as dividends and interest, or on regular income above $200,000 a year for individuals and $250,000 for couples

$132 billion

total amount of cuts to privately administered Medicare Advantage plans

About the CBO

The Congressional Budget Office was created in 1974 with the mandate to provide Congress with objective and nonpartisan analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions and information and estimates required for the congressional budget process.

Learn more

To read the completed version of the health care legislation and the CBO report on what the bill would cost, go to links.tampabay.com

Democrats' health care plan gets would cut budget deficit, Congressional Budget Office says 03/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 12:29am]

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