The Trouble With the Baucus Plan
Posted on September 17, 2009
The Trouble With The Baucus Plan
On its face, the plan offered by Max Baucus seems fairly reasonable. Compared to the other Democratic plans, it is fiscally responsible. It takes it relatively easy on employers. It doesn’t have a public option. It is not a single-player plan.
It has some political vulnerabilities, of course. Labor unions will hate it because it taxes their health care plans. The individual mandate is not going to be very popular, especially among younger voters. It has some unspecified Medicare cuts that will anger seniors. But, all in all, this could be a good Democratic half of a compromise.
In a truly bipartisan bill, Republicans would add their own ideas, like the ability for small businesses to form risk pools (called Associated Health Plans), real Medical Malpractice reform, and the ability to buy health insurance across state lines.
But the trouble with the Baucus plan is not what it is today, but what it will become.
The fact of the matter is that Democrats hate the Baucus plan. Nancy Pelosi is going to demand that the public option be included. Senator Jay Rockefeller is so sputtering mad about the Baucus plan that he can barely contain himself.
There is no evidence that the Baucus plan will survive in its current form, and there is no reason to believe that his plan will get better with any Republican additions.
The odds are stacked against Republicans, not only on the Senate floor, but especially in the conference committee. Republicans know about conference committees because they used them to great advantage when they ran the Congress.
When Ted Kennedy helped support passage of the Prescription Drug bill in the Senate, he helped seal the fate of the Democrats who wanted a trillion dollar bill. Republicans insisted on keeping the bill relatively slender and also insisted on Medicare reforms that Kennedy hated. He ended up voting against the conference report, as did most left-wing Democrats.
Republicans aren’t going to make the same mistake. They understand that the Baucus plan is only a starting point for the Democrats, and once the liberals get their hands on it, it won’t turn out to look anything like the relatively moderate effort it is today.
Baucus gave it his best shot. For example, he has honored the deal that the President made with PhRMA. But House Democrats have no interest in honoring that commitment, just as they have no interest in letting Max Baucus have his way on heath care reform.
Baucus has done an admirable job of trying the threat the needle. But at the end of the day, he is just one vote in the Senate. This plan will change dramatically by the time it gets to the Senate floor, and change even more by the time it gets through conference, and that is the trouble with it.