POLITICS

Baucus And Conrad's Miserable Health Care Reform Day [UPDATE]

11/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

[Updated, below]

So, for weeks and weeks, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus has held the health care reform debate hostage as he hemmed and hawed and deliberated with his Gang of Six and -- most importantly -- accrued a sizable campaign war chest full of money from health care lobbyists, all for the promise of a health care reform bill that would earn a dollop of "bipartisanship." Well, he's brought his Hamlet act to a close today, and released his grand plan, so, how did he do, earning that critical bipartisanship, which hopefully doctors can literally prescribe for our cancers?

Senate Republican sources close to Grassley and Enzi -- and in the case of Olympia Snowe, the senator herself -- tell CNN they still have concerns that have not been addressed that range from taxpayer funding of abortion, to illegal immigration, to affordability of the health coverage this new law would require.

High-fives all around then! And, as Ryan Grim reported today, plenty of Democrats -- that's the political party of which Baucus is a member, if you recall -- are similarly sour on the Baucus plan. If everyone hates it, does it count as "bipartisanship?" Please say that this counts!

Over at 1115.com, Sarabeth captures the key detail that truly should mark Baucus as an incompetent:

The part that Max "Cock-up" Baucus might have the most trouble living down is the fact that Olympia Snowe -- who has for weeks now been the only Republican senator with any realistic hope of supporting a healthcare reform bill -- rejects the bill for being too weak and watery:

But let's not lose sight of why Snowe balked at the Baucus framework. For one thing, she's concerned about the financing mechanism, which she believes would hit Maine hard. But just as importantly, Snowe also believes (as I do) that Baucus' plan offers weak and inadequate subsidies. "The affordability question is crucial," Snowe said. "It's a central component, because at the end of the day people have high expectations they will have access to affordable health insurance."

In other words, one of the leading Republican negotiators on health care reform believes Baucus' plan is too conservative.

Just picture the negotiation process, if you will. Grassley and Enzi have already made it abundantly clear they will not support what Baucus produces, literally no matter what it looks like. Baucus is effectively negotiating only with Snowe. He takes the bill and starts adding water, telling Snowe: "Just say when!" And when he comes to the point where Snowe is on her feet and going "Just right! Just right!", he flashes her an evil grin, and strokes his handlebar mustache, and just keeps adding water, till she's groaning and holding her head in her hands. And that's Max Baucus for you, negotiator extraordinaire.

Oh, but there are other Senators who are just masters of the art of health care reform hard at work, compounding Max Baucus' cock up. Take North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad. As Ryan Grim reported yesterday, Conrad's decided that he wants the CBO to score health care reform in a twenty year window instead of the typical ten. Will this render an accurate measure of budget cost? No! As Matt Yglesias points out:

This will tend to make the score less accurate, since projections get more and more uncertain the further you go out. It will also make it harder to pass a health care bill. But it will disadvantage the more-liberal House bill more than it disadvantages the Senate bill. And I think it's usually best to assume that members engage in these kind of procedural moves because they understand their impact--Conrad is trying to kneecap the liberal version of health reform, and considers making it harder to pass any kind of health reform an acceptable price to pay to meet that goal.

But what are you going to do? Kent Conrad is probably one of those legislators who have studiously guarded against unnecessary budget deficits, I'm sure. Oh! Wait! I'm sorry! What were you saying, Ezra Klein?

Conrad's record in the Senate...would lead you to believe a couple of things. For one, he distrusts long-range projections. Even 10 years is too uncertain. He also believes some priorities overwhelm deficit concerns, health-care coverage being one of them. But when faced with a health-care reform that will be deficit neutral within the 10-year time frame, he is demanding that it instead be measured against an even more uncertain 20-year time frame, and by an agency that he claims underestimates savings. The CBO's scores are terrible, in other words, and come in such small portions!

So there you have it. While it may, even today, feel voguish to criticize the GOP for all they've done to sidetrack and defeat health care reform, remember, they don't have the votes. But Max Baucus and Kent Conrad have votes that do matter, and these are the idiot games they are playing with your hopes at health care reform. They've rogered this debate, BUT GOOD, and they've each been personally enriched for their efforts by the health care industry. Gaze upon their works, and despair if the Senate Democrats don't possess the good sense to move this matter into budget reconciliation.

UPDATE: Wow. I didn't even include the worst part! Via Ezra Klein, this is the worst part:

Baucus's bill retains the noxious "free rider" provision on employers. Rather than a simple employer mandate that forces every employer over a certain size to provide health-care insurance or pay a small fee, the free rider approach penalizes employers for hiring low-income workers who are eligible for subsidies. That will create an incentive to do one of two things: Don't hire low-income workers (hire a teenager looking for a job rather than a single mother, or hire a housewife looking for a second job rather than an unemployed breadwinner), or hire illegal immigrants.

And it actually gets worse. The employer pays more if the low-income worker needs subsidies for his family as opposed to just himself. So it not only discriminates against low-income workers, but it particularly discriminates against low-income parents. Single mothers will get the worst deal, as they have lower incomes, and as you might expect, children who need health care.

Read more, here. And, wow. Thanks a lot, Senator Baucus. Hope you were paid handsomely.

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