Prior to a vote, the Senate Finance Committee members issued statements and questioned Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf and Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Thomas Barthold.

As expected, the tenor of the debate was highly partisan with Democrats on the committee speaking out in favor of the legislation crafted by Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) and Republicans speaking out against it.

A lightning rod for the debate was a report issued on Sunday by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) that predicts the legislation would add $1,700 a year to the cost of family coverage by 2013, when the bill’s major provisions take effect. The study further projects that in 2019, family premiums could be $4,000 higher and individual premiums could go up $1,500.

Democrats denounced the methodology of the report, complied by New York-based accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). “[Among other elements], the study assumes no reductions whatsoever in administrative costs,” said Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) “PWC’s convoluted analysis is completely incorrect.”

Kerry took aim at the health insurers, charging that despite public assurances that they favor health care reform, the industry is working to scuttle reform efforts. “In the final hours, the health insurance industry remains right where it’s been all along,” Kerry said. “Obfuscation is the choice of this industry.”

Republicans seized on the report as an indication that the Baucus bill would raise health care costs and not reduce them. Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Texas) asked Elmendorf to certify PWC’s analysis.  

Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) took exception to the manner in which the bill was advancing. noting that the bill would change significantly when it is merged with the bill that passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. “If this bill was the answer, there would be no need for the stunning lack of transparency that surrounds it,” Bunning said.

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans 13-10 on the committee, the bill is widely expected to pass when the vote is held later today.

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