Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 1, 2009

GANG OF SIX: DEAD COMMITTEE WALKING?.... The Senate Finance Committee's Gang of Six was never a good idea. In April, committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was ready to move forward with a bill very much in line with a Kennedy-backed proposal, which they'd collaborated on for a year. Soon after, Baucus decided to try "bipartisanship."

Bad idea. Baucus assembled a committee within a committee, and excluded progressive senators from the process altogether. Six lawmakers -- centrists and center-right members from rural states -- met in private. Two of the six working on health care reform made it clear they're against health care reform. The panel kept demanding more time, getting more time, and then doing nothing with the extra time.

The Gang of Six fiasco seems to be, at long last, falling apart.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana says a health care overhaul will happen this year even if Republicans back out of bipartisan talks under growing public pressure and that the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy could help hold together a compromise deal.

Baucus is leading a panel of two other Democrats and three Republicans that is being watched closely by everyone from the White House and beyond. Chances of a bipartisan breakthrough appear to be diminishing in the face of an effective public mobilization by opponents during the August congressional recess.

For his part, Baucus continues to say bipartisan talks have a chance. Indeed, he told the AP "chances are still good." There's every reason to believe that's not the case. Baucus wouldn't have told the AP that reform is moving forward, with or without Republican support, if he didn't see that as a likely next step.

The writing is on the proverbial wall. Chuck Grassley is obviously not serious about the negotiations; Mike Enzi has dropped the pretense of sensibility; and the White House is officially sick of both of them. If the search for bipartisanship is going to continue, it will have to look beyond these two.

Everything I'm hearing is very much in line with what Ezra reported: "Everyone I've spoken to in the Senate believes, strongly, that this process is about to break down, and the Democrats are going to move forward on a more partisan basis. Presumably, the Republicans in the Gang of Six process have heard the same and have no interest in looking like fools when that happens.... As far as I can tell, the Gang of Six process is already dead. What's happening now is that the participants seem to be raiding its corpse."

I suspect that the Gang of Six will at least go through the motions for two more weeks, in advance of its Sept. 15 deadline. At that point, however, the process can begin functioning again.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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Comments

If the Democrats were even slightly savvy, they'd craft the best possible bill and then pass it without a single Republican vote. That would let them own the issue entirely. So when it looks like Grandma's long-term care will no longer mean bankrupting the entire family, that family will know who to thank at the voting booth.

Posted by: Domage on September 1, 2009 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

Bad idea if you want healt care reform. But if you don't it's a great idea.

Posted by: jay on September 1, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Good idea if you want health care reform. But if you don't it's a terrible idea.

Posted by: NealB on September 1, 2009 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

There's nothing requiring this committee's bill to even come to the floor.

We have four other bills now being treated like red-headed stepchildren. Interestingly, one of them even contains the Super Sekrit Wishes of Ted Kennedy that the GOP just can't seem to divine any other way.

Posted by: shortstop on September 1, 2009 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah! All Right!!! Woo Hoo!!!

6 months later...back to square one...

US Senate! US Senate! US Senate!

Posted by: neill on September 1, 2009 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Re Domage: The current bills will have no effect on the issue of payment for long term care, which is not covered by health insurance as it is defined in this country. This was also a fundamental flaw in Nick Kristof's column in the NYT this Sunday. This is going to be a huge problem in coming years, but its going to have to be addressed separately. BTW, Grandma's long term care at most can bankrupt Grandpa, not the whole family, since Medicaid will kick in at some point after assets are depleted and, have recently reviewed the spouse proteciton provisions under Medicaid (since hubby and I are heading toward that demographic) I can't say I find them completely unreasonable. Long term care is more an issue of estate protection as opposed to health insurance.

Posted by: dcsusie on September 1, 2009 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

We spent the last eight Bush Years with them doing whatever they damn well pleased- wars, tax cuts, Big Pharma giveaway-and the Union survived.

So why not repeated the process: screw the Reps,have the Dems do whatever they damn well please?

Of course there's the Herding Cats problem. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 1, 2009 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

If the Democrats were even slightly savvy, they'd craft the best possible bill and then pass it without a single Republican vote.

Amen.

And here is where the stars are truly aligned. Do it and BHO's approval skyrockets, the 2010 elections are not an issue -- maybe even a big win -- a second term is assured, and the repugs are truly on life support. And must turn to Palin.

Oh, and all of those 3-dimensional-chess-true-believers can claim victory over us naysayers.

What could be better?

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 1, 2009 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

As to Grandma's long term care, here in Berks County, PA, 75% of our welfare funds go to maintaining aged seniors in various forms of the Old Folk's Home.

And with boomers about to join Grandma-TENFOLD!- it ain't gonna get any better. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 1, 2009 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

If the Democrats were even slightly savvy, they'd craft the best possible bill and then pass it without a single Republican vote.

They'd either have to do it under reconciliation, or wait for Ted Kennedy's replacement to be sworn in, since they don't currently have 60 votes.

But I've got no problem with their bending, spindling, folding, and mutilating the reconciliation rules to pass the best possible health care reform bill they can get 50 votes for. In fact, I think that's exactly what they should do.

It's been pointed out that this wasn't the sort of thing reconciliation was meant for, but abusing reconciliation is the only reasonable response to abuse of the filibuster.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on September 1, 2009 at 8:51 AM | PERMALINK

Long term care is more an issue of estate protection as opposed to health insurance.

Please explain.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 1, 2009 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

What brilliant tacticians the Dem's are! They had the power, so they gave it away. They work for bipartisanship with partisan hacks. Then, when an obviously losing proposition fails, they give their opponents more time to amass opposition to a watered down plan.

You would think they almost wanted to fail, wouldn't you? Sellouts!

Posted by: candideinnc on September 1, 2009 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

And with boomers about to join Grandma-TENFOLD!- it ain't gonna get any better. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 1, 2009 at 8:45 AM


Has anybody thought about the idea of having a group of disinterested citizens who can decide when we cost too much to live. Seems like an idea whose time has come. We should incorporate that into the new bill.

Posted by: Scott F. on September 1, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

The curious thing is how thoroughly the Republicans have disregarded Luntz' advice, e.g., "If the dynamic becomes “President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it,” then the battle is lost " and "It’s not enough to just say what you’re against. You have to tell them what you’re for."

http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/frank-luntz-the-language-of-healthcare-20091.pdf

The August problem has simply been another example of the old ring wisdom: everybody has a strategy until the first time they get hit.

When progressives got hit, we reverted to our three favorite reflexes (typified, once more, by Shortstop):

1) we spend all kinds of time and energy attacking the bad guys' attacks (like puritans studying porn, in case they missed anything truly wicked the first three times),

2) we bitch about how stooopid the public is, which over-estimates the influence this crap has but gives us the chance to complain that somebody failed to recognize our wisdom in understanding matters too complex for television, and finally (Shortstop above),

3) we complain about our majorities in the House and Senate, who may not be able to do everything that we, in our brilliance, could achieve if only the Senate didn't exist (Matt Yglesias, call your office) , if we didn't actually HAVE a House majority (cuz that involves Representatives in marginal districts like the Blue Dogs), and of course Shortstop's pissy notion that 'nothing requires this bill to even come to the floor'.

Cuz surrender is SO much more morally satisfying than victory.

LOL -- the politics are still pretty simple. For one thing, either Luntz was right with his polling data in April, or he was wrong; or he was right then, but something significant has changed.

There's no data that he was wrong in April. And nothing significant has changed -- except the perennial progressive failure to drive the story, and our response to getting hit, which is ALSO nothing new.

Blaming the public for our own failures, the Adlai Stevenson disease, is why we didn't get universal health care under Truman, Johnson, Nixon and Carter (one of Ted Kennedy's lesser achievements), not to mention the Magaziner fiasco.

Luntz had affirmative as well as negative advice for Republicans. He told them they had to be FOR "reform", BECAUSE he insisted that "Republicans who simply run against Washington-run healthcare will lose the healthcare debate." That's what they're doing. It's still an opportunity -- but so what?

That isn't enough for us. We need to get off defense -- which means getting past the reflex to preen and bitch -- three points

A) Everybody who drives has car insurance. Everybody should have health insurance. We figured out how to insure every car, didn't we?

B) 18,000 Americans die every year from curable or preventable diseases because they don't have insurance and couldn't afford care.

C) Americans will have their choice between the best private insurance they can afford, and a bare-bones government plan. Hell, if you've paid into Medicare for 10 years so you'd be eligible at 65, why can't you use it as a bridge if you lose your job and your private insurance? You've earned it.

The best response to getting hit, is a counterpunch: they say "death panels", we ask: What, you want Medicare to REFUSE to pay for end of life counseling when a patient wants to know their options? They say "government takeover of health care', we say "you and your doctor know best: how come it's insurance company profits that decide what care you qualify for?'

But, PUH-leeze, enough with preparing for yet another progressive defeat cuz we're too goddam arrogant to win by persuading ordinary folks.


Posted by: theAmericanist on September 1, 2009 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

Goodness, but I seem to still be on theAmericanist's mind way too much to indicate mental stability on his part. First the series of his unwanted and apparently drunken emails, then the obsessive following me around on these threads, and now this.

Paul, am I going to have to take a restraining order out against you? It wouldn't be the first one you've had, would it? Do you hang them on the wall next to your photos of you with Tip O'Neill?

Posted by: shortstop on September 1, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Long term care is more an issue of estate protection as opposed to health insurance.

Please explain.

Posted by: Econobuzz

________________________________________

Long term care for seniors without assets is a difficult economic issue, but its not really a difficult policy issue - nobody (well, almost nobody) is going to vote to have demented, impoverished Granny wandering naked around the streets. The real political fireworks comes in determining how much of an individual's assests have to be given over to long term care before society takes over, in the form of Medicaid. Right now, for a single senior, the answer is pretty much everything. For a couple in which one member requires long term institutional care and one does not, there are not-insignificant income and asset protections for the non-disabled spouse. He/she is going to have to live modestly, but is not going to starve, and most importantly, can retain the family home. The problem is that many seniors with enough assets to cover at least a year or two of nursing home care protest that they did not save all their lives to have the money used up for long term care, and that they want to be able to leave an estate for their heirs. An understandable sentiment, to be sure, but if taxpayers fund nursing home care in such circumstances, they are not protecting seniors, they are protecting the seniors heirs. I would say you have a moral obligation to chip in for my nursing home care if the alternative is that I die on the street, but I really don't see why you should pay so that I can leave money to my kids.

Posted by: dcsusie on September 1, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

6 months later...back to square one...

yeah, except for several other bills that have cleared committees in both houses.
but your neverending stream of defeatist comments is always appreciated.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on September 1, 2009 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

yeah, except for several other bills that have cleared committees in both houses.

Bills? What other bills? Someone has been working on another bill? ;)

Posted by: shortstop on September 1, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Long term care for seniors without assets is a difficult economic issue, but its not really a difficult policy issue

The rest of what you wrote seems to contradict this.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 1, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

dcsusie, I've often wondered why it's seen as "reasonable" for Congress to attempt to preserve wealth via inheritance for the very wealthy (i.e. efforts to repeal estate tax) - and just as reasonable to decimate the small estates of working people to pay for nursing home care.

Gee, if we ever have the majority in both houses and the White House, we might want to take a lot at that inequality.

Posted by: Susie from Philly on September 1, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Cuz surrender is SO much more morally satisfying than victory.

Are speaking as a top, bottom, or versatile?

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 1, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

Max Balk Us can go to hell. I was talking to Democrats in Montana last week for the DNC, and there wasn't one who thought the bastard really is a Democrat. Baought and Paid For Balk Us - that's our Max. $2,000/day from the health care industry buys a lot of Balk.

Posted by: TCinLA on September 1, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

How much power does Baucus have? Can he simply dissolve the working committee? If so, why not now?

Does he have the power as chairman to say the committee will not report out a bill?

If Finance decides to consider a bill as a whole body, how long would it take to get to a vote?

Posted by: Bob Johnson on September 1, 2009 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

Shortstop's right -- she never has anything substantive to say, and her exemplification of progressive's failings is too typical to warrant identification.


Posted by: theAmericanist on September 1, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Steve you give Baucus way too much credit. There is zero evidence that he was ever really serious about moving a Kennedy type bill.

Remember that the Gang of Six was originally a Gang of Seven (with Hatch) that had a Four to Three Republican Majority. Remember too that the Gang of Seven excluded Rockefeller, the Head of the Finance Sub-Committee on Health. And then ponder that only four members of Senate Finance are NOT on the Health Sub-Committee, and so indicating a natural interest in the overall issue. and three of those four ended up in the Gang of Six.

Senate Finance has 13 Democrats to 10 Republicans and the only person likely to have objected to something close to the HELP Bill would seem to be Conrad. Baucus could have crafted a bill that would have passed at worst on a 12-11 margin, maybe 13-10 if Snowe did a kind of switcheroo with Conrad. Instead Bsucus invited two Republicans who were already on record voting against HELP (Enzi and Hatch, added himself, Conrad and Grassley, with Snowe and Bingaman along I guess for cover. Even after Hatch dropped out of the group Baucus knew he didn't have the votes for a clean bill that could be combined with the HELP Bill leading me to believe that deadlock was the desired outcome all along.

Time to kick Baucus to the curb or at a minimum subject him to the Johnson Treatment as pictured here from 1957,
http://face2face.si.edu/.a/6a00e550199efb883301156fb7b650970c-pi

Posted by: Bruce Webb on September 1, 2009 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

How much power does Baucus have? Can he simply dissolve the working committee? If so, why not now?

Near as I can see this "working committee" has no official status at all. Three of its members are not even on the Health Care Sub-Committee, near as I can see it is a totally ad-hoc group formed by Baucus. After Hatch dropped out it would have been simple to replace him with Rockefeller and so restore a 4 to 3 Dem majority more in line with the 13 to 10 Dem representation on the Committee as a whole. So the answer to your questions in order would seem to be: "Too much" "Yes" "Because he doesn't want to".

Does he have the power as chairman to say the committee will not report out a bill?

Probably, but under Senate Rule 14 any Senator on or off the Committee has the right to put an identical bill on the Senate Calender. The only reason not to do so is that it tends to make Committee Chairs peevish. In this case screw him.

If Finance decides to consider a bill as a whole body, how long would it take to get to a vote?

Depends on Baucus. The other four Committees were able to get to a vote in time frames from a week (HELP) to three weeks (House E&C).

It is at this point all a question of will between Baucus, Reid and Obama. Reid could use Rule 14 and have a complete bill moving to the floor tomorrow with Baucus only having two chances to intervene, one of the motion to bring the bill to the floor and one on final. Reid just refuses to play hard ball.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on September 1, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the response, Bruce. It's definitely time for some hard ball!

Nice photo too. I sent it on to the WH.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on September 1, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Susie from Philly: For the record, I don't think the repeal of the estate tax is reasonable, either. However, the issue is where you draw the line between what you are supposed to provide for yourself and what society is supposed to provide. I don't have any problem with the idea that all long term care should be a social expense, but I would argue we would also need to have a tax structure to support that, either through higher taxes (i.e., like most other advanced societies) or by elimination of other expenses. Other industrialized societies can do more in terms of social support because they don't have the drain we do from the military - do you think that's going away any time soon?

Posted by: dcsusie on September 1, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Very informative, Bruce. Thanks much.

Posted by: Susan Johnson on September 1, 2009 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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