October 7, 2009 / 1:34 AM / 8 years ago

More taxes for health companies in Senate bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate healthcare reform bill would raise $29 billion more in taxes on healthcare companies over 10 years than originally estimated, congressional experts said on Tuesday, fueling new Republican attacks on the legislation.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reported the bill would raise $121 billion in fees on drug companies, health insurers and the makers of medical devices, up from the $92 billion it reported last month.

The new estimate came as the Senate Finance Committee neared a vote on its sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system amid Republican charges the proposal is too costly and includes too many new taxes.

The healthcare bill, one of five pending in Congress on President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, would levy new taxes on some industries to help pay for the changes.

The Joint Committee on Taxation said its new estimate of the revenue raised by the taxes was higher because the companies would not be able to deduct the fees from their corporate taxes.

Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the panel, said the higher taxes would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums and healthcare costs.

"One of the goals of healthcare reform should be reducing premiums and costs for Americans, but these taxes will have the opposite effect," Grassley said.

The Senate panel has delayed a vote until the Congressional Budget Office delivers a revised estimate of the financial impact of the plan to rein in costs, regulate insurers and extend coverage to millions of uninsured.

Democratic Chairman Max Baucus said he hoped to get the cost estimate from CBO on Wednesday, which could clear the way for a committee vote this week.

Republicans have repeatedly asked Obama and his fellow Democrats to slow down the healthcare battle, and Grassley said the shift showed why committee Republicans wanted tax and budget experts to appear again before the panel.

The Democratic-controlled committee adopted dozens of amendments during seven days of debate, and lawmakers need a full understanding of the legislation before voting, Grassley and other Republicans said in a letter to Baucus.

Once the Finance Committee approves the bill as expected, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will merge it with a bill passed earlier this year by the Senate health panel and move it to the floor for debate within the next few weeks.

The House of Representatives also is edging toward a floor debate on healthcare. Democratic House leaders met again on Tuesday night to meld the three bills passed by House panels, and will discuss their progress at a Democratic caucus on Wednesday.

Editing by Chris Wilson

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