An ever-changing timeline

AN EVER-CHANGING TIMELINE…. It really did seem as if the Congressional Budget Office would release its final score on health care reform last night, which would prompt Democratic leaders to start the 72-hour clock and schedule a vote for Saturday.

But by early evening, leadership aides told reporters waiting on the Hill, “Go home.” No CBO score for you, at least not yet.

The delay affects the ever-changing timeline.

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday night said the long-awaited Congressional Budget Office score of the reconciliation bill will not come out until Thursday, forcing an acknowledgement that a Saturday healthcare vote is likely off the table.

But leaders are still hoping for a score on Thursday, and are still preparing for a possible vote before the end of the weekend.

The release of a CBO score on Thursday — triggering the Democrats’ 72-hour clock — would mean that voting on the reconciliation bill would “most likely happen on Sunday, if that scenario plays out,” Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told reporters after leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office Wednesday night.

The CBO’s report may very well be published this morning — literally, any minute now — or not. The over-worked budget office is doing its best, but it’s been overwhelmed by lawmaker requests.

It’s worth appreciating that this process is an example of Democratic leaders trying to do the right thing. When Republicans were in the majority, CBO scores were deemed irrelevant — it didn’t matter how much legislation cost or how much it would add to the deficit, because Republican policymakers decided they didn’t care. Every new dollar of GOP-backed spending would simply get added to the debt. What’s more, the 72-hour timeline is entirely self-imposed — Dem leaders decided it would simply be a matter of propriety to have the bill published and available for three full days before a vote is held. Again, under GOP rule, such niceties were non-existent. When Republican leaders had secured the necessary support, they held a vote.

As Jonathan Cohn explained yesterday, these delays are frustrating, but they’re evidence of Democrats being “guilty” of “trying to practice good government.”

That Dems have been accused of overseeing an abusive process would be funnier if it weren’t so ridiculous.

So, as things stand, don’t be surprised if the House vote is scheduled for Sunday morning, at the earliest. As for actually finding the votes to pass the legislation — a reasonably important detail — the NYT reported that Democrats are “inching toward the majority they need.”