Daily Dose: Live Blogging the Senate Finance Markup

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009; 11:18 AM

4:49 p.m. | Markup Heats Up

Things got a bit heated just now in the hearing room, generated from an unlikely source: the by-the-numbers, just-the-facts-ma'am director of the Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf. Asked by Olympia Snowe how many people the CBO was estimating would pay a penalty instead of buy health insurance, Elmendorf said he did not have the estimate handy, and went on to say that his office had been overwhelmed with work in the past few days. Faced with 500 proposed amendments to score, he said, his staff had not been able to analyze all of the modifications that Baucus had already made to the bill in recent days.

This did not sit to well with Baucus, who in increasingly testy tones made clear that the CBO better analyze the modified bill as it now stands as soon as it can, even if it means moving more quickly through the proposed amendments and dispatching of the ones that seem less pressing. "We urge you with all speed" to produce a final cost estimate of the revised bill, Baucus said. "I can't overemphasize this enough."

This rubbed the earnest Elmendorf the wrong way. He noted that his office had responded to countless requests from Baucus and other senators in the past 48 hours. "We've turned around a vast amount of material for you, but there are limits," he said. He added, as if comparing the work of the CBO to driving a car or flying a plane, that there are "maximum limits of safe speed" that the CBO can work at before it imperils the quality of its analyses. "We're not sitting around chewing things over."

Baucus was unimpressed, noting again that the CBO had done "very little analysis" on his own modifications to the bill.

Some of Baucus's critics might see irony in the exchange -- after all, it was Baucus who many Democrats in the House and Senate believe was being too punctilious in drafting the very bill whose CBO analyses Baucus was now finding late and lacking.

3:36 p.m. | Rockefeller Horse Trading with Kindness

It's not easy to divine true sentiments amid senatorial niceties, but it does appear from watching Jay Rockefeller speak just now that the rift that opened up between him and other more liberal Democrats on the one hand and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus on the other has closed a bit.

Rockefeller, of West Virginia, has been open in voicing his displeasure with the direction that Baucus took all summer -- gathering the Gang of Six in a room to try to has out a bipartisan compromise that would not include several liberal planks, notably the public option, which Rockefeller strongly backs. But now that the bipartisan effort has stalled, and it has become clear that Baucus's bill will need Democrats' votes to get out of committee, Rockefeller and his allies are, for now, in a slightly stronger position to bend the bill in their direction.

So his words for Baucus just now were kind even by senatorial standards. He compared the legislative process that Baucus has been leading to D-Day, and said that "Chairman Baucus is our General Eisenhower." He thanked him for his "enormous commitment." He mentioned the "incredible meeting" that Democrats on the Finance Committee had held last night to prepare for the mark-up, which he said was dominated by a "new spirit" on health care and a "good, good feeling that we're moving forward."

And he listed the features he would hope to have added to the bill in exchange for such high praise. They include his wish that children now in the Children's Health Insurance Program be allowed to stay in that instead of what the proposals contemplate, moving them into either conventional Medicaid or the "exchange" where uninsured families will be able to buy subsidized coverage. He urged that the subsidies on the exchange be increased to make coverage more affordable.

And he made one more pitch for the public option, which he said he wished had been called something different -- maybe "the family health insurance plan" -- because "the word public is not a good word these days."

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