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Partisan Sparks Fly at Health Care Markup

Partisanship ruled the first portion of Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee health care markup, with a lengthy debate over a Republican amendment proving just how difficult it might be for Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to report the bill out of committee by week’s end.The Finance Committee, which moved through about four amendments in nearly four hours of work, is scheduled to reconvene at 2:30 p.m. The panel kicked off consideration of the health care proposal Tuesday and is likely to work all week to vet more than 500 amendments.Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) offered an amendment to require the panel to postpone a final vote on the bill until after legislative language and a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate are made available. The amendment failed, 12-11 — with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) being the only Democrat to join the Republicans voting in favor — but only after a spirited debate that lasted more than two hours.Democrats charged that Bunning’s amendment could delay a final vote on the Finance bill for several weeks and said that Republicans were simply trying to stall passage of reform. The GOP Senators countered that they simply want to get the bill right.“Time is our ally, not our enemy,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said. “I want to do my job, and our job is to sit here and do it as long as it takes.”Baucus did end up offering a competing amendment patterned after Bunning’s proposal. Baucus’ amendment, which passed along party lines, requires that a CBO score be made available to Finance members before they vote on final passage. Lincoln supported that amendment as well.The debate was capped by a brief back-and-forth between Baucus and Bunning, with the Kentucky Republican demanding time to debate the Finance chairman’s proposal.“But we haven’t discussed it yet,” Bunning said of Baucus’ amendment.“That’s OK,” Baucus retorted. “I don’t need it discussed.”

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