(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday passed a bill to reform the U.S. healthcare system, President Barack Obama’s main domestic objective.
Here are the likely steps to come as the bill moves through Congress.
* Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will now begin closed-door talks to merge the bill with one approved by the Senate Health Committee earlier this year. Reid will sit down with several fellow Democrats including Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, new health panel Chairman Tom Harkin and Senator Chris Dodd, who led health committee deliberations on the bill, to work out differences in the two measures.
* The biggest decision will be whether to include a government-run “public” insurance option backed by Obama and congressional liberals. The Finance bill does not include it and three Democrats, including Baucus, voted against it in committee. The Health panel’s bill does include it. Reid also must navigate competing views on the level of government subsidies to help individuals buy insurance and a proposed requirement that employers offer health coverage to employees.
* Reid’s goal will be to find a spot where he can placate liberal Democrats without driving off moderates -- all in hopes of holding together the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the 100-member U.S. Senate. That is the number needed to overcome Republican procedural hurdles. “In the end, it’s about finding a proposal that can get 60 votes,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
* Once Reid reaches a compromise, the measure will be submitted to the Congressional Budget Office for another estimate of costs and eventually moved to the Senate floor for debate, perhaps later this month.
* Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives also are working to merge three separate healthcare bills passed by House committees, and submitted a version last week to congressional budget analysts for cost estimates. Their goal is to move a bill to the floor in the next few weeks.
* If the Senate and House each pass a healthcare overhaul, a conference committee composed of members from each chamber will be appointed to negotiate the differences and combine the two measures. The public insurance option is certain to be an issue there as well -- all three House bills include it.
* Once the conference committee settles on a single bill, the House and Senate vote again on the revised measure. If approved, it will be sent to Obama for his signature or veto. Obama has set a goal of the end of the year for final action.
Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Doina Chiacu