The Senate Finance Committee began marking up the Baucus health care bill this morning, and Part II of that hearing begins in just an hour or so. While the markup session is more a theater show than an actual horse trading session, lots of what has been going on behind the scenes will be revealed publicly over the next few days, in front of the White House and all the industry big hitters.
We know that the Republicans on the committee have given up trying to govern and are solely interested in scoring political points. Among their amendments are measures to reduce the excise tax “for any state with a name that begins with the letter ‘U’”. They have compiled 27 amendments designed to reduce affordability for regular Americans, dozens of amendments to protect industry from fees, one to change every instance of the word "fee" in the bill to "tax", and added the usual amendments around ACORN and czars. They are thoroughly unserious and have marginalized themselves from this debate.
That's proven by the fact that, based on the leaks so far, the movement is toward making the bill better from a liberal perspective than a conservative one. The affordability credits are expanding, new financing schemes are being debated, and Ron Wyden's Free Choice Act is picking up support amidst a decent CBO score:
Relative to the Chairman’s mark, the amendment as modeled would reduce the net impact on federal deficits by about $1 billion over 10 years. There would not be substantial effects on the total number of people with insurance coverage or the sources of that coverage, relative to the Chairman’s mark.
The CBO doesn't think lots of people would use Wyden's alternative, which would allow anyone to go into the exchange even if their employer offered health care. But this gives people an option, and sets the stage for an eventual move away from the employer system without a firewall propping it up. If it can show itself to be able to survive, it can prosper. If not, if the premiums go up and the employer-offered insurance gets worse, people have a safety valve. Max Baucus said this morning to Wyden, "I especially appreciate your comments about choice and competition if you don't want to be stuck with what your employer gives you. We're going to get into some ideas for how to do that."
I would like to see more counter-attacks along the lines of removing the anti-trust exemption for health insurers, to keep them in line with the policy. Dallasdoc has some great ideas. But the cantankerous nature of Republicans has actually moved the ball toward the only ones on the playing field, and Baucus-care is slowly, but surely, improving. Hopefully that will continue down the line.