Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 7, 2009

BAUCUS HAS A PLAN.... Four of the five congressional committees working on health care reform finished their work in July. The political world has been waiting, with various degrees of patience, for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to produce a bill.

After a year of planning, and months of negotiations, Baucus finally began circulating a bill yesterday, including the chairman's idea of how to pay for it. Is the plan any good?

In a last effort to give the Senate a bipartisan health care bill, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee circulated a comprehensive proposal on Sunday to overhaul the health care system and proposed a new fee on insurance companies to help pay for coverage of the uninsured. [...]

The proposal by Mr. Baucus does not include a public option, or a government-run insurance plan, to compete with private insurers, as many Democrats want.

That's not surprising -- Baucus, after promising earlier this year to fight "tooth and nail" for a public option, has been signaling his intentions to scrap the idea.

If the public option is out, what's in? Well, the Baucus plan offers subsidies up to 300% of the poverty level. That's far less than the 400% level urged by most reform advocates -- and creates the very real possibility of forcing Americans to pay for expensive coverage they won't like.

The package would cost between $850 billion to $900 billion over 10 years, which is a little low, but far better than the $700 billion we've heard bandied about. It not only excludes a public option, but also a "trigger."

Baucus would finance his plan with a tax on insurance companies' most expensive policies (the "Cadillac" plans), an idea first recommended by Democratic Sens. Schumer, Rockefeller, and Stabenow.

OK, so the Baucus plan is obviously far short of other Democratic proposals, but at least it's a proposal that could garner bipartisan support, right? It's not everything reformers hoped for, but it's a "consensus" bill, right? Wrong. This scaled-back proposal, according to reports this morning, "apparently" isn't enough to satisfy the demands of Sens. Grassley and Enzi.

So, let me get this straight. Max Baucus has worked for months on a watered-down plan intended to curry favor with conservatives. He's finally circulating his proposal, which he could have unveiled a long time ago, and which Republicans still won't like.

If the Senate minority isn't going to support Baucus' plan anyway, then maybe Baucus ought to push a better bill.

Steve Benen 8:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Push a better bill? HA! You have dealt with Dems before, right? They start with compromise and fall into surrender.

Gotta hand it to the insurance companies -- $800 billions in handouts is pretty sweet.

Posted by: Go, Sestak! on September 7, 2009 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

In 1976, the old National Lampoon did an issue devoted to politics entitled "Is Democracy Fixed?" as in, rigged.
2009 makes it very difficult to escape the conclusion it is. The Democrats are throwing governance. We might as well cede power to the Republicans, who at least like it, and watch out the windows at the highway to hell.
Really, that'd be better than corporate state-lite.

Posted by: JMG on September 7, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

In the end, once his lousy bill gets done and past his committee, it will be forgotten -- on the Senate floor and in the House-Senate conference committee. But Balk-Ass has really fucked things up. What a tool.

Posted by: sjw on September 7, 2009 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

No biggie - If this means Baucus will take it to the full SFC and he can get something like it (probably better, given the composition of the SFC) out of committee.

Posted by: Amy on September 7, 2009 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Push a better bill? HA! You have dealt with Dems before, right? They start with compromise and fall into surrender.

Gotta hand it to the insurance companies -- $800 billions in handouts is pretty sweet.

Posted by: Go, Sestak

I repeated this because it is perfect! I can't stomach voting Republican today, but voting for the stunning weakness of Democrats makes me want to cry.

Posted by: Mark-NC on September 7, 2009 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

If the Senate minority isn't going to support Baucus' plan anyway, then maybe Baucus ought to push a better bill.

Obviously for some reason Baucus thinks this is the Better Bill. Besides which, he's accomplished his objective of slowing things down and gumming up the works.

For some reason, this gives rise to poetry of sorts:

Oh Baucus! your caucus does mock us, so sock us...
Something like that.

Once again, I am reduced to my snark that we should turn healthcare over to the Mexican drug lords because they, at least, know howto get things done.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on September 7, 2009 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

Any cost control measures?

Posted by: garnash on September 7, 2009 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

And here I am trying to keep-down my breakfast. Ugh! I just lost a bit of it into the back of my throat..

Baucus is a cretin. Nauseating...

Posted by: Stevio on September 7, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Baucua will never do it.My HEALTH CARE CONCLUSIONS are:

The other day, a former neighbor came by to visit. At one point she complained that, having just signed up for Medicare, she feared the Medicare changes in health care reform plans. Well, the reform does not threaten Medicare. Medicare changes are not the thrust of these reforms. Medicare's funding problems have to be addressed separate from current reform plans.

Putting aside drummed up fears like "death panels". what's not to like about health care reform? Certainly, there is the cost of insuring the uninsured, but most Americans are in favor of righting this wrong. (and we're paying a lot for their health care as it is). President Obama wants to eliminate pre-existing condition limitations, prevent denials when illness occurs, help preserve insurance when jobs are lost, and reduce costs for the benefit of businesses and individuals. It's all good stuff.

Then there is the public option. This is not government take over or socialism; it is a public insurance option, to operate like Medicare. It is not government-run, like the VA System (although the VA system is efficient and successful) Nor does it put a government bureaucrat between patient and doctor. I've had Medicare for almost 20 years and have yet to run into a bureaucrat, and have had no denials.

At the outset, the public insurance option is necessary because we will have to subsidize some of the currently uninsured; and so we want a lower cost alternative. Longer term this government insurance operation will help keep private insurers competitive and can better negotiate with providers to reduce the overall cost of health care.

Everyone agrees that our health care system is broken and presents an unsustainable burden on our society. Now is the time for President Obama and the Democrats to bring the change voted for last November.

homer www.altara.blogspot.com

Posted by: altara on September 7, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

It is a tossup whether I feel greater contempt or disgust with Baucus and democrats in general.

I do agree that Go, Sestak has hit the perfect note on this.

As a progressive, it is easy to recognize that the rethugnicans are on a permanent power trip and do not give a shit about the amerikan sheeple. That so many dumbocraps are the same way makes me despair for my country.

Posted by: SadOldVet on September 7, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

No surprises here. I'm sure that Baucus's bill will become the defacto measure of all other bills, and Obama and the rest of the Democrats will work very, very hard to water it down even further in a futile attempt to appease the Republicans.

What we'll probably end up with is a bill that mandates everyone buy insurance, provides a subsidy that does not even begin to cover the consumer's cost, imposes no controls whatever on the insurance companies, and shovels hundreds of billions in tax dollars into the insurance company coffers. We'll live with that for another decade or two--until we reach the point where more than 50% of GDP is going to health insurance.

Posted by: Domage on September 7, 2009 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

On Saturday CSPAN2 showed a 1996 interview with David Broder about Clinton's efforts at health care reform (following publication of his coauthored book THE SYSTEM). He talked about how Republicans had anticipated health care reform as the next big policy effort that Democrats would take on, even before Clinton was elected, and amassed forces and allies to defeat any reform--for purely political reasons, to defeat Democrats, not because of principle. Those forces and allies have only become more powerful over time and are poised now to beat back reform. But the basic effort is political and simply a way to "make the president fail." (As it was for Clinton, so it is for Obama today.)

All the more reason to be tough and determined and get a good health reform bill passed. No question about it.

Posted by: giselle on September 7, 2009 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Your report on subsidies leaves out some partial subsidies:

"It would also provide some protection for people with incomes from 300 percent to 400 percent of the poverty level (up to $88,200 for a family of four), so they would generally not have to pay more than 13 percent of their income in premiums."

Posted by: Amy on September 7, 2009 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

WONDERFUL, altara, I think you should send this to the president and along with a chart I viewed on TPM this morning his TALK to Congress would be complete. Honestly the more words he uses the less effective he will be as our legislators, media, and most of the public have about a 15 second attention span...and VISUAL AIDES might help...who am I kidding this WAR IS OVER...effectively killed by the wingnuts and weak-kneed BLUE DOGS in concert with our corporate media and again FEAR has won the day!!!

Posted by: Dancer on September 7, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

It is unbelievable how a whole huge democratic party which holds the White House and have large majorities in both houses let itself be sucked by one Senator from a tiny state.
What king of weasels, will they ever grow a backbone? Any surprises many of us begin to see the logic behind Ralph Nader arguments?

Posted by: Yoni on September 7, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

"ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" -- Serres

"ontology recapitulates philology" -- Quine

"healthcare reform politics recapitulates the celebration and honoring of labor in this country." -- neill

Posted by: neill on September 7, 2009 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

The insurance tax is Kerry's proposal:


Posted by: njgirl on September 7, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

In re the Senate as a (black) whole:

-and the horse they rode in on. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Can we calm down a bit. The only reason that this bill has to be bipartisan is because according Senate Finance Committee rule a bill could only get out of the committee when at least one member of the minority party votes for it. This rule has been in existence since the 1800's (the Senate Finance Committee was established in 1815). Conference is what we should be looking for.

Posted by: Micheline on September 7, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee ought to consider defeating this piece of toilet-paper substitue in committee when it's presented for their vote. That is if any of them have a spine. Tell Max Balk Us to his face to go to hell.

Posted by: TCinLA on September 7, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

This is to be expected, but at least we have played this silly game of bipartianship and Sen. Snowe is for a "trigger" so we might have 60 votes if it can be shined up a little to be more attractive to the House. They just said on TV this was a non-profit co-op plan. Frankly, I can't take much more health care discussion. Let each caucus pass what they will and they can duke it out in conference.

Rep. Clyburn had an intriguing idea that was in my local paper over the weekend. He suggested ins. exchanges, reforms, and "regional" Public Options, rather than a "trigger" PO. He said we could try the PO in maybe two regions of the country and the ins. exchanges in the other regions. If the ins. exchanges are not competitive, the PO would go nationwide. Both plans could be tested at the same time.

Posted by: cat on September 7, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Micheline @10:14, thanks for pointing out yet ANOTHER path for GOP obstructionism. I didn't know that. Well, how does this work if a progressive member of a rule committee changes parties, votes it out, then returns to his/her original party? These rules make no sense and probably can't be corrected without GOP aid. So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (then leave 'em).

Posted by: Chopin on September 7, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

I just wanted to point out that I don't think there was a single comment above that contained anything but contempt for the democratic party, and this is a progressive blog! Even funnier, if you listen to conservative talk radio and read conservative blogs, you'll find nothing but contempt for the republican party. Our "democracy" seems to be a bad joke, and yet it is the only game in town.

Posted by: Jason on September 7, 2009 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Someone ought to get on the TeeVee and tell how this is a major (MAJOR) embarrassment for our distinquished Senator Baucus. He worked tirelessly for a bi-partisan health care reform bill, held up progress forever and half a day; held private meetings with the Gang of Six. He emerged from the room wiping slimmy goo from his chin and after doing unspeakable things to his prestige and image, got a bill no one will support. That crap on his face, its egg.

Posted by: Chuck Gerlach on September 7, 2009 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

I could have sworn Obama said we could keep our insurance if we wanted to.

Posted by: Constant Gina on September 7, 2009 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

micheline it does not need a vote from a repub to get out of committee. The civil rights legislation was taken out of committee period and sent to the floor by LBJ and Mike Mansfield. Ofcourse the problem is that Reid and Obama are no Mansfield and LBJ. This can be done . I am waking up to the reality that the Dem powers that be don't want it to succeed. They are scared of their corporate donors. The problem is that they will be voted out if they don't do this right and I don't think that they realize that in their own little bubble.

Posted by: warren terrah on September 7, 2009 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

BTW is there a mandate in Baucus' bill? Didn't see that in the article.

Posted by: warren terrah on September 7, 2009 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

"...If the Senate isn't going to support Baucus' plan anyway..." Steve Benen.
Perhaps that was the whole idea from the beginning?
If the Republicans were really in favor of acting "bipartisanally", this committee gave them the perfect opportunity; they have had input as well as the chance to make sacrifices on their side, too (haven't seen any of THOSE).
But, they haven't. No matter what has been proposed, Republicans have said it is not enough. It still isn't even certain that the bill will get out of committee, since it needs at least one Republican to vote for it and we don't know if that will occur.
So what are President Obama and the Senate Democratic caucus faced with? A "bipartisan" bill that may not get out of the committee, will certainly be opposed by every Republican Senator if it does and, by the way, doesn't come anywhere near meeting the criteria set by the President (or the House members, either)?

Posted by: Doug on September 7, 2009 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Senator Baucus is an embarrassment to the Democratic Party. Baucus thinks only of himself, the heck with the American people. Of course, he is being paid off by the insurance companies. I guess he doesn't understand that around 70% of the American people want a Public Option to be included with the rest of insurance choices. It is not a government run program. Even though we do have Social Security, Medicare and the VA hospital among other government programs which most American won't give up. The Option Plan is just another "insurance plan" that you can choose from.

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