Members of the pivotal Senate Finance Committee have offered 564 amendments to a broad health care reform blueprint inked by Sen. Max Baucus and released Wednesday, September 16.
The sheer number and scope of the amendments, though not unexpected, threaten to strain the demeanor and test the mettle of a committee that has always prided itself on its ability to be as cordial as it is efficient.
Baucus said he expects the committee to begin considering the amendments as early as Tuesday, September 22, though it's unclear how long the process—known as a “mark-up”—will take.
The amendments have been divided into three categories: those that affect the delivery system, those that affect the expansion of health coverage, and those that relate to how the bill will be financed.
Many of the amendments could potentially upset the fragile balance Baucus has tried to maintain to pick up a handful of needed Republican votes.
Some amendments would essentially kill the idea of nonprofit “co-op” groups, which would be developed to help lower insurance costs. Others would increase Medicaid eligibility, lower the age group for Medicare eligibility, and develop an employer mandate much stronger than the one already included in a bill.
“Improving the proposed Finance Committee legislation is a critical step in the legislative process—getting this wrong is not an option,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) said in a written statement.
To help pay for the amendments, many of the lawmakers suggested funding mechanisms previously considered by Baucus and a small, bipartisan team of negotiators, but nonetheless were left on the cutting-room floor.
Rockefeller, for instance, would use a cap on itemized deductions at 35 percent to pay for part of his slate of changes.
President Barack Obama has championed such a provision.
Still, others want money to come from other industry players, such as insurance companies. Proposals to close corporate tax loopholes are also being considered.
The Senate Finance Committee is made up of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans.