Transfer Of Power
The remaining House committee to finish work on the health care bill, the Energy and Commerce Committee, has repeatedly delayed their markup sessions this week, as Henry Waxman negotiated with the several Blue Dogs on the committee over changes to the bill. Talks seemed to reach a breakthrough when Waxman agreed to add expanded power for MedPAC, an independent board that could make recommendations on public medical spending and face an up or down vote in Congress. But despite that, there's been delay.
And that's because the Blue Dogs want to sequence the votes. They want the Senate to go first with whatever comes out of the Finance Committee over there rather than take a vote on something that won't be part of the final bill. Nancy Pelosi said as much yesterday:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pretty adamant: She would prefer to pass a health care bill by early August, and would be willing to hold the House in session past a scheduled recess to get there. But she's also unwilling to move unless the Senate does...something.
'[I]f we're done, and they're not done and they're gone, what is the point?" Pelosi said in a meeting with reporters yesterday. "It's interesting to me that people are saying, 'Don't leave until it's done.' I don't know how much more we can do if the Senate is not going to move."
This reflects a general frustration with the holdup in the Finance Committee, particularly the secrecy of them and how long they have played out. As far back as February, Max Baucus talked about a markup session in June. And he consistently agreed to that throughout the next several months. Now he hasn't only help up the process, but he doesn't even plan to run it by the Democratic caucus once he introduces it:
However, the level of consultation with Democrats stands in contrast with how Republican negotiators are briefing their Members. Senators said Enzi, who is the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, briefs leaders every day on the talks. And all three of the GOP negotiators have agreed to brief the entire GOP Conference before they sign on to any deal with Baucus.
But Democrats said Baucus is unlikely to run any deal by his caucus before he shakes hands on an agreement with Republicans.
On the stimulus bill, we had Presidents Nelson and Collins dictating the size and scope of the bill. Now there's been a transfer of power. Presidents Baucus and Grassley are large and in charge. And virtually nobody in the Democratic leadership has challenged this hijacking of the process, outside of off-the-record grumbles. In particular, nobody has mentioned that they've gone well outside the confines of their mandate:
I would have thought that the role of the Senate Finance Committee was to figure out how to finance necessary health care reforms in a responsible fashion. It wasn't their job to make the major "policy" calls about what reform entails. That's the job of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committtee, and the respective House Committees, and they've already defined what they want and are in basic agreement.
No, Finance's job was to look at the range of financing options -- some from Tax A, some from Tax B, a bit from Tax C, plus Savings X, Savings Y, etc. -- and then choose. Put together a package that's fair and that does the job. But apparently, the entire Congressional leadership is waiting for President Baucus and President Grassley to tell them what the substance of reform will be.
So, what have the two Co-Presidents produced so far? Zero. Nada. Zilch. Unless you count delay.
Did you know that last November, you all voted for Max Baucus and Charles Grassley to become Presidents of the United States of Health Care?
UPDATE: Jane reports that a deal is coming from the Finance Committee shortly, and that it'll use John Kerry's suggestion to tax insurance companies for their most expensive plans, and that it won't have a public plan. As Scarecrow said, since when does the Finance Committee dictate policy provisions?
Jane believes that the Senate bill could come together quickly, and that when Harry Reid reconciles the Finance bill with the HELP Committee bill, that he will drop the public plan. I would say that, since it's completely at Reid's discretion, the pressure is on him to include that in the merged package or not. Either way there will be an amendment to either strip it or add it back in. If Reid includes it, that amendment may need a 60-vote threshold to strip it, and if he doesn't, it may need 60 votes to put it back in. So Reid has every opportunity to advance the prospects of a public option. Jane also says:
Anyway, as was always going to be the case, the only hope for the public plan is coming out of the House. And the only hope of forcing the Senate's hand is if there is a roadblock in the House that can't pass a health care bill without one. It puts them in the position of tanking health care because they petulantly insist on refusing to give in on something that 76% of Americans want, and the public pressure becomes enormous.
So please tell members of the House to stick around and fight, because with 50 million people in this country uninsured, it isn't All About Them.
The best way to stop the delay tactics from the Finance Committee is to refuse them an out by putting passage of a bill ahead of the August recess.
...and Harry Reid abdicates his responsibility as a leader of the caucus...
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that the Senate would not attempt to pass sweeping health care reform until after returning from the August recess.
“It’s better to get a product that’s based on quality and thoughtfulness than on trying to just get something through,” Reid told reporters.
Reid said the Senate would try to complete a package in the fall.
The article makes it sound like Republicans asked for a delay, and Reid AGREED to it.
Should we just let Mitch McConnell be Majority Leader at this point?
...I should mention that I haven't seen reports of that Baucus/Finance Committee/public option deal anywhere else. Things are very fluid and I still feel that most stakeholders in the debate are resigned to something called "public option" in the final bill. Whether it's good or not remains to be seen. But conceding the recess and allowing the Finance Committee to delay and dictate the terms is unconscionable.