As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Baucus Caucus: Less Health Care For America NOW

The six-headed Presidential hydra, also known as the sub-group in the Senate Finance Committee, has decided to ignore everybody and keep working diligently to do absolutely nothing on the health care bill.

Senate health-care negotiators agreed late Thursday to ignore the increasingly strident rhetoric from Republican and Democratic leaders and to keep working toward a bill that can win broad support from the rank-and-file in both parties, according to sources familiar with the talks.

In a conference call, the three Democratic and three Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee agreed to redouble their efforts to craft a less costly alternative to the trillion-dollar initiatives so far put forward in Congress. They discussed the possibility of also reining in the scope of their package, the sources said.

The senators rejected the idea of imposing a deadline on their negotiations, and they agreed to talk again Sept. 4 -- four days before lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington from their August break. The consensus, one participant said, was "to take your time to get it right." [...]

Before leaving for the month-long recess, Baucus had pegged the cost of the negotiators' ideas at less than $900 billion over the next decade. Thursday's discussions focused on driving that cost lower, the sources said.

Their draft bill was already woefully short in terms of subsidies for those who can't afford insurance. The Gang of Six wants to drive them even lower.

I'm sure the people most enamored of themselves did reject having a timeline on their circle jerk. But look who is making these decisions. Chuck Grassley has basically said he'd vote against his own bill, even if he gets everything he wants, if he cannot get more than 80 Senators total on board. The #2 ranking Republican in the Senate has already said that votes for reform aren't coming. So Grassley, one of the key negotiators here, has admitted that he won't support anything the Gang of Six does. Mike Enzi is probably stronger in that direction. Olympia Snowe admitted today that the public option was never on the table in this Gang of Six, and that co-ops are worth exploring, even though two months ago she called them worthless. Kent Conrad has been ideologically opposed to the public option for as long as anyone can remember, and came up with co-ops, in all likelihood, as a way to steal seed money for the "non-profit" Blue Cross of North Dakota, which has captured 90% of the market in his home state. Max Baucus admitted as far back as March that the public option was nothing but a bargaining chip. Jeff Bingaman hasn't been getting nearly enough heat for being part of this charade, but he has talked the talk on co-ops as well.

These six Senators, who come from states representing 2-3% of the population, have proposed ideas out of step with 77% of the public, and think they're entitled to hijack the entire process in Congress to serve those ends.

The question is what to do about this. 270,000 people listened to the President's strategy session yesterday, and over 5,600 supporters have contributed almost $350,000 to lawmakers standing up for the public option. These six lawmakers, most of whom probably want no bill at all, know that the longer they hold up the process the harder it becomes to pass anything. Harry Reid needs to use whatever means necessary to force a bill out of the Senate - discharge petitions, going around the committee of jurisdiction, whatever. At that point, we're talking about a conference committee. Which is what Obama has asked for all along. The problem is a matter of trust, as Paul Krugman put it today.

...Chris Bowers is right that this is the worst part about it - the Senate Finance Committee has decided to take two additional weeks off before meeting again. They are so bound and determined to get health care right that they'll do nothing for weeks, presumably in the hopes that health care reform will die on the vine and they won't have to do anything at all.

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