From Ezra Klein at The Washington Post:
There’s been a lot of anxiety over leaks outlining the compromises being made in the Senate Finance Committee’s health-care plan. Among these compromises is a rejection of the public option and the absence of an employer mandate. Disappointing stuff. But, at this point, completely predictable.
Look at this picture. Study it. This is who is in the room helping Baucus put together his bill. Olympia Snowe, Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Bingaman and Kent Conrad. In a Senate of 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans, the health-care reform bill is being written by three centrist Democrats, one centrist Republicans, and two conservative Republicans. And until last week, Orrin Hatch was in the room, too.
(l to r: Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, Max Baucus, Olympia Snowe)
This is not the Finance Committee’s bill. This is the Max Baucus Committee’s Bill. And there’s not a liberal — or even a Democrat traditionally associated with health-care policy — working on it.
The question is whether Baucus’s final product will matter.
All of which is to say that the Baucus process is attracting an immense amount of interest, but the product may not look a lot like the bill that Congress eventually considers. And the reason is simple enough: Baucus’s process doesn’t look a lot like Congress. Baucus, Enzi, Snow, Grassley, Bingaman, and Conrad all think of themselves as dealmakers, but right now, they’re not cutting a deal on behalf of anyone but themselves.
From The New York Times:
On the agenda is the revamping of the American health care system, possibly the most complex legislation in modern history.
The fate of the health care overhaul largely rests on the shoulders of six senators who since June 17 have gathered — often twice a day, and for many hours at a stretch — in a conference room with burnt sienna walls, in the office of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana.
The battle over health care is all but paralyzed as everyone awaits the outcome of their talks.
Mr. Baucus says his group will produce the bill that best meets Mr. Obama’s top priorities, broadly expanding coverage to the uninsured and curtailing the steep rise in health care spending over the long term, what policy makers call “bending the cost curve.”
Still, if the three Democrats and three Republicans can pull off a grand bargain, it will have to be more conservative than the measures proposed by the House or the left-leaning Senate health committee. And that could force Mr. Obama to choose between backing the bipartisan deal or rank-and-file Democrats who want a bill that more closely reflects their liberal ideals.
Already, the group of six has tossed aside the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, which the president supports but Republicans said was a deal-breaker.
Instead, they are proposing a network of private, nonprofit cooperatives.
They have also dismissed the House Democratic plan to pay for the bill’s roughly $1 trillion, 10-year cost partly with an income surtax on high earners.
The three Republicans have insisted that any new taxes come from within the health care arena.
In the House, centrist Democrats have temporarily stalled the health care bill, many lawmakers want to see what Mr. Baucus’s group produces before voting on tax increases in the House bill.
After the group insisted it needed more time, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, conceded that a floor vote would have to wait until after the summer recess. “If this is the only bill with bipartisan support,” Ms. Snowe said, “that will really resonate. It could be the linchpin for broad bipartisan agreement.”
As they near a deal, however, Mr. Baucus is getting resistance from Democrats who think he is giving too much ground.
In totally unrelated news–from the Billings Gazette (June 14,2009):
HELENA – As Sen. Max Baucus has taken the lead on health reform legislation in the U.S. Senate, he also has become a leader in something else: campaign money received from health and insurance industry interests.
In the past six years, nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana Democrat and his political action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical supply firms, health service companies and other health professionals.
These donations total about $3.4 million, or $1,500 a day, every day, from January 2003 through 2008.
Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which is drafting a major health care reform bill this month, insists that this cascade of money is not unduly influencing his work.
Yet some reform activists and others who watch the political system say it’s foolish to think this money doesn’t hold some sway.
Advocates of national, public health insurance for all – a proposal largely excluded from the health reform debate – say their exclusion points to the power of moneyed interests in Congress.
“I’m convinced that this (money) has a profound influence,” said Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. “Otherwise, how could Baucus, an otherwise respected and wise politician, say categorically that single-payer (national health insurance) is off the table?”
Only Baucus’ Republican counterpart on the Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, rivals him in terms of percentage of funds from these business sectors.
The Gazette State Bureau examined fundraising data for Baucus, Grassley, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (who chairs the Senate Health Committee, which is drafting health reform legislation), the other two members of Montana’s congressional delegation, and President Barack Obama.
The data are compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks and sorts campaign donors by profession and industry. Here’s a summary of what the State Bureau discovered:
From 2003 to 2008, the Baucus campaign and his Glacier PAC, which raises money and distributes it to other candidates, received 23 percent of their $14.8 million from health care and insurance interests.
The $3.4 million from these sectors includes $853,000 from pharmaceutical and health products, $851,000 from health professionals, $467,000 from hospitals and nursing homes, $466,000 from health service and HMO interests, and $784,000 from insurance.
The insurance sector money includes donations from all types of insurance company interests, including health insurance.
• Five of the top 10 specific donor sources for Baucus were drug companies, health insurers or health-related firms. For example, employees of Schering-Plough Corp., a major drug firm, gave him $92,000 over the period, more than any other single source.
• Grassley, the highest-ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, received 23.5 percent of his funds from health and insurance interests but a lesser dollar amount than Baucus ($2.3 million out of $9.8 million total funds).
Baucus has been leading the charge on health care reform in the U.S. Senate since early 2008, holding numerous hearings and Finance Committee meetings on the issue. He released a lengthy “white paper” last November, outlining his reform ideas, and a major bill is expected to be introduced this month.
The general thrust of his proposals is to require all citizens to buy health insurance while also forcing the private insurance industry to stop practices that make coverage unaffordable for many. He supports subsidies to those who may have trouble affording insurance.
However, on a reform bitterly opposed by the insurance industry and most health care interests – a public, nonprofit insurance plan offered by the government – Baucus has been more ambivalent, saying he supports the idea but declining to specify in what form.
[David] Donnelly, the Campaign Money Watch director, says the proof on health care reform will be in the final product – and that he’s not terribly optimistic.
Health and insurance interests are clearly targeting Baucus and his Finance Committee, which often have shown themselves to be receptive to their influence, he said.
“This debate on health care is a microcosm … that even after a ‘change’ election, how much the special interests view (Washington) as their fiefdom,” Donnelly said.
Supporters of national health insurance are even less optimistic, noting how Baucus, Obama and leaders in Congress won’t even consider their proposal, which they believe would have broad public support.
“I can’t think of any reason other than fidelity to your donors, to explain why they would keep us out of the debate,” said [Quentin] Young [national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program]. “Until we get campaign finance reform, it will be very difficult to do anything to challenge the status quo (in health care), and the status quo had better be challenged, because it’s a very bad status quo.”
From Open Left:
Max Baucus is emerging as the key roadblock between Americans and true health care reform. I wonder who gives money to Senator Baucus? For the 2005-to-present period here are the top ten contributors to his campaign committee and leadership PAC:
1. Schering-Plough Corp $86,200 Pharmaceuticals
2. Amgen Inc $65,250 Biotechnology
3. Blue Cross/Blue Shield $62,350 Health Insurance
4. UST Inc $61,950 Chewing tobacco/alcohol
5. New York Life Insurance $59,150 Life & Health Insurance
6. JPMorgan Chase & Co $58,100 Banking/Insurance
7. American International Group $51,750 Insurance/Fin. Services
8. Aetna Inc $51,250 Health Insurance
9. Goldman Sachs $47,900 Financial Services
10. DaVita Inc $47,850 Health Care