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Finance Committee Keeping Health Care Cost Numbers From Other Democrats

First Posted: 07/26/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:30 PM ET

Max Baucus

The Senate Finance Committee may have announced earlier Thursday that its new health care reform package costs less than a trillion dollars over ten years, but it has no plans to share the details with most Democrats on the committee until a committee bill is written.

Citing fears that the budget numbers would be leaked, staff for Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) e-mailed staffers for other Democratic committee members on Thursday evening that they intend to keep the scores private until the committee bill -- known as a mark -- is written, a senior Democratic aide said. There is no set timetable for the completion of a committee bill.

Senators and staff learned of the general trillion-dollar number that had come back from the Congressional Budget Office at a closed-door committee meeting Wednesday evening, aides said.

The CBO individually scored multiple parts of the committee proposal, but no agreement as to which parts will make up the whole has been made. The purpose of getting the CBO scores was to enable the committee to piece together a proposal that comes in at around a trillion dollars. With the agreement yet to be reached, it's unclear how the bill, which doesn't exist yet, can be said to have a cost of a trillion dollars.

The CBO, in other words, provided the committee with a number of options that could come in under a trillion dollars, but what those options are remains secret.

The Finance Committee has generally operated in the open. In April, New York Times reporter Robert Pear wrote that, "In setting forth detailed 'policy options' and inviting public comment, Mr. Baucus and Mr. Grassley set a precedent for openness. Four other Congressional committees are developing equally ambitious proposals in secret."

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, seemed to expect that to continue."With all these new scores, people will have a chance to look at how you fit together these options to get the best package from a policy perspective and also in terms of support," he said.

The Huffington Post asked Conrad what had been cut from the previous package, which had cost $1.2 trillion earlier this week, to get it down to one trillion.

"Two hundred billion," joked Conrad.

More specifically?

"Subsidies, largely," he said.

Will the details be shared with the rest of the committee?

"You have to talk to the chairman, because that's his responsibility. I do have them, I can't speak for others," said Conrad, the Budget Committee Chairman and a charter member of Baucus' 'Coalition of the Willing.'

"I haven't seen them," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), a finance committee member, told HuffPost.

Baucus has "been very candid; when he's had information, he's made it available. I sure don't have any quarrels about that," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a finance committee member. He said he met with Baucus on Thursday but has not seen the specific numbers from the CBO. "I think the chairman felt they just got it this morning, so you'll have to ask him."

So HuffPost told Baucus that a number of people on the committee had been unable to see the specific numbers.

"We're addressing that subject a step at a time," he said. "I did meet with all the members today. I met with everybody today."

Will you share the numbers?

"Every senator on the finance committee is able to, how do I say this? We're working on it," said Baucus.

Jeff Muskus contributed reporting.

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