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EXCLUSIVE: Finance Bill Won't Increase the Cap on Subsidies

Since the Baucus framework was released last week, there's been an ongoing debate about whether the Finance Committee's final bill will include any significant changes. One area of dispute has been the subsidy cap for uninsured families: Chairman Max Baucus set it at 300 percent above the federal poverty level in his framework (about $66,000 a year for a family of four). But others in the committee--including Olympia Snowe and Jeff Bingaman--have wanted to raise the subsidy cut-off to 400 percent (about $88,000 a year for a family of four). As recently as last week, 350% was being floated as a potential compromise, and liberals like Chuck Schumer were bullish about nudging the bill to the left.

Now it looks like this just isn't going to happen. Sources close to the negotiations say the subsidy levels will remain exactly as they were in the original Baucus framework--at 300 percent above the poverty level. Those between 300 and 400 percent will have their premiums capped at 13 percent of income. But, as one Democratic aide points out, "almost nobody's going to pay that high a percentage of their income in premiums" after the other insurance reforms are passed, so the cap will only affect a tiny percentage of the population. For many liberals, this will come as a disappointment--both the HELP and House bills set the cut-off at 400 percent.

Altogether, though Olympia Snowe may be the only Republican in the Gang of Six to come along, it doesn't seem to have made the bill much more liberal. As my colleague Jonathan reported today, the rest of the final Finance bill is expected to resemble the framework, with only minor modifications. One source also confirmed that Snowe's pronouncement that the trigger option is "not on the table" for the Finance Committee bill was on point--if Snowe says it isn't, then it won't be. She may continue negotiating with the White House to bring this to the table, but it won't go through the Finance Committee.