11/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Trouble With Max Baucus: It's Not The Plan, It's The Planning

Matt Yglesias takes an analytic look at the health care reform plan proffered by Max Baucus today, and while he beseeches his readers to remember his bona fides as a Max Baucus detractor, he nevertheless concludes that "a lot of the blog response to this proposal is overblown" and that there's "no reason to think that the system envisioned by Baucus would be either a political or a substantive disaster":

Instead, it would create something comparable to the situation that currently prevails in Switzerland or Massachusetts. Is that great? No, it's not. Health care in Massachusetts is substantial worse than health care in any number of foreign countries. That said, the Massachusetts health care system is better than the health care system that exists in any other American state. Similarly, if it were up to me Switzerland is about the last country I would choose to emulate. In terms of excessive costs--spending that lines the pockets of medical providers with little real medical benefit--it's worse that everyone except . . . the United States of America.

In short, the status quo is bad, Baucus' plan would make it better by the slimmest of incremental degrees, and at the end of the day, a net gain is a net gain. What I think Matt is eliding over is the fact that Max Baucus' plan doesn't go any further than it does for a reason. That reason? Max Baucus' plan has been bought and paid for by industry lobbyists.

From the Sunlight Foundation, June 22, 2009:

Lobbying disclosure filings for the first quarter of 2009 reveal that five of Baucus' former staffers currently work for a total of twenty-seven different organizations that are either in the health care or insurance sector or have a noted interest in the outcome. The organizations represented include some of the top lobbying organizations in the health sector: Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Researchers of America (PhRMA), America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Amgen, and GE Health Care.


The overall health and insurance sectors haven't just been kind to Baucus' staffers, but they've also aided his campaigns handsomely over the years, especially in his barely contested 2008 reelection campaign. In 2008, Baucus received $1,148,775 from the health sector and $285,850 from the insurance sector. For his career he has received $2,797,381 from the health sector and $1,170,313 from the insurance sector.

And this is precisely why Baucus' plan is such weak tea. Any ambition to craft a more effective policy or even shift in a larger incremental direction is entirely offset by millions of dollars of war chest money. And when one compares the money Baucus has taken in from his constituents versus the money he's raised from outside interests, it's hard to make the case that Baucus is authentically driven in his decisions to represent the citizens who have elected him. NPR's Andrea Seabrook breaks this down:

When Baucus ran for his sixth term last year, his campaign raised $11.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly half of the funds came from out-of-state donors, including millions from health care and other industries overseen by Finance and Baucus' other committees.

Just 13 percent of Baucus' re-election funds came from Montana donors.

The "substantive disaster" here lies not in Baucus' sausage, but in the process by which it was cooked up, and if you swallow the former, you risk choking on the latter.

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