Yesterday, 10/13/09, the Senate Finance Committee approved a health reform package on a largely party-line vote of 14-9, with only Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) crossing the partisan divide. The vote in Senate Finance was the last of the five House/Senate committee (3 House committees, 2 Senate Committees) votes before consideration by the chambers. Leadership and select members of the committees of jurisdiction will need to work together to merge bills that have been produced. In the Senate, the reform package will need to clear 60 votes to avoid a filibuster, while in the House only a simple majority is needed. At present, a public insurance option appears to be the major point of contention between the more conservative version of reform produced by the Senate Fiance Committee and legislation advanced by the Senate HELP Committee and the House. After bills pass the Senate and House, differences will again need to be worked out between the chambers so that a single bill can be sent to the President.
Passage of health care reform may be linked to the student aid overhaul that was approved in the House over the summer. If Senate Democrats are unable to pull together the 60 votes necessary to pass health care reform, they may tie the legislation to the student aid bill in the form of a budget reconciliation package that would only require a simple majority to pass. As a result, the Senate companion to the House (H.R. 3221) student aid bill is currently awaiting further developments on the health care reform front. The University of Washington, and much of the higher education advocacy community, is using the extra time allotted for the student aid bill to seek some improvements in the legislation.