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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Unceasing Disaster That Is Max Baucus

This is it. A year of planning. Three months of intensive bipartisan discussions. Weeks of preparation for the public. And Max Baucus is going to deliver his health care bill... without a single Republican vote. Which anyone with a brain could have told you would be the outcome right from the start.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will release his long-awaited health care reform bill Wednesday – but without the Republican support he has sought for months.

Baucus tailored his proposal to win the backing of some Republicans, hoping to keep alive the possibility that Congress would pass a bipartisan bill.

But after months of closed-door talks, none of the three Republicans involved the bipartisan Gang of Six is expected to declare support for the bill Wednesday.

Baucus said he was still hopeful the bill will emerge from the committee vote with bipartisan backing.

Get that? Baucus wrote a Republican bill, essentially, one that is a gift to the insurance industry, and he got nowhere. And for his efforts, he got blasted by Charles Grassley, who disapproves of the "process." See, he wanted another year or two at the bargaining table delaying a final product, anything else is just a power grab. By the way, Baucus is still "hopeful" for a bipartisan vote. Which means what, he'll add in riders criminalizing abortion and commemorating Rush Limbaugh Day?

The GOP freeze-out on the Baucus bill includes Olympia Snowe, who's actually concerned, like many Democrats, about the weak affordability standards.

But let's not lose sight of why Snowe balked at the Baucus framework. For one thing, she's concerned about the financing mechanism, which she believes would hit Maine hard. But just as importantly, Snowe also believes (as I do) that Baucus' plan offers weak and inadequate subsidies. "The affordability question is crucial," Snowe said. "It's a central component, because at the end of the day people have high expectations they will have access to affordable health insurance."

In other words, one of the leading Republican negotiators on health care reform believes Baucus' plan is too conservative.

More Democrats have spoken up about the affordability concerns, which fall on the poor and middle class. At best, the weak subsidies would force loads of Americans to opt out of the mandate, making the bill useless. At worst, people would be forking over large portions of their income to private industry for substandard coverage. It's just another version of the middle-class squeeze.

Mr. Norton, 49 years old, is an adjunct professor at a local community college who earns about $40,000 a year. He's also one of roughly 200,000 Massachusetts residents who remain uninsured despite a state law requiring residents to have health insurance.

"I can't use up all of my savings just to buy mandatory insurance," Mr. Norton says. It's like penalizing "the homeless for refusing to buy a mansion." [...]

An independent contractor, Mr. Norton doesn't get benefits through the state-run Quinsigamond Community College where he works. His wife's employer, a dental practice, covers her, but not dependents. With a combined income of between $60,000 and $70,000, the family goes without cellphones for Mr. Norton and his teenage daughter, and a needed roof repair, but still makes too much to qualify for subsidies.

The cheapest plan available to him and his 16-year-old daughter costs $464 a month, or $5,568 a year, and comes with a $2,000 deductible per person.

"It's insurance you can't possibly use," he says, referring to the thousands of dollars he'd pay in premiums and deductibles before the coverage would kick in.

Baucus has an anodyne op-ed putting the best face on his plan. Those who've taken a look at it know better. And it has to be improved before getting out of the Senate.'s the Baucus chairman's mark. It's mostly in plain English.

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