Senate Finance Committee approves Baucus bill

Posted on October 13, 2009

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With a vote of 14-9, the Senate Finance Committee approved the healthcare reform bill summary proposed by Sen. Max Baucus. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe crossed party lines to support the measure, though she said she could not guarantee her future support for the bill depending on the direction legislation takes.

The President and his supporters are pleased with the victory, and there can be no doubt this is a step forward for them, but there are several major reasons why supporters shouldn’t be too overcome with elation, and why opponents shouldn’t despair:

  • The Baucus bill does not exist in legislative language form. What passed today was the summary language translation of the Baucus plan. This is what the CBO scored, and when the legislative language is hammered out, it will most likely add costs and adversely affect the budgetary scoring, to say nothing of provisions in the legislative that may be overlooked in the summary form but have hidden consequences for the public.
  • The Baucus bill does not contain a public option – but it will have to be reconciled with a Senate bill that does, the bill passed by the Senate HELP Committee. The Baucus bill’s lack of a public option makes it a horrible option for the left, who have expressed their disdain for it. Adding a public option may not be feasible in the Senate, but it will undoubtedly provoke another internecine fight among Democrats.
  • Once a final Senate bill is hammered out and potentially passed, it will have to be reconciled with a House health care bill that Speaker Pelosi has assured the nation will include a public option. The addition of a public option may again prove to be a nonstarter in the Senate, and will turn off a lot of House Blue Dog Democrats who have electoral concerns about supporting such a proposal. In the meantime, progressive House Democrats have vowed to oppose a bill that doesn’t contain a public option, which may prompt another messy fight in the lower house of Congress.
  • The tax on “Cadillac health plans” has drawn heavy criticism from both Republicans and labor unions, creating a strong pushback against a key funding measure for the plan. This leaves a vast swath of interests on the left and right that are strongly dissatisfied with important parts of the Baucus plan.

What this all means is that it’s unlikely the Baucus bill will survive in a significant manner under assaults from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and under spending and taxation concerns from conservatives. We can’t trust the preliminary scoring of the Baucus bill for these reasons (and the fact that it doesn’t yet exist in concrete form), and I have a strong suspicion that the CBO’s final scoring will be quite a bit more than the $829 billion now being promised (which is by itself a nice chunk of change).

Pressure on lawmakers will still be important as health care reform moves into several new phases. Passage of the bill by the Finance Committee was almost assured simply based on party line voting, and while Sen. Snowe’s support is frustrating, Allahpundit points out that tactically it’s a no-brainer for her to throw her hat in with the Democrats.

What’s key will be the final CBO scoring and whether or not a public option can be surreptitiously shoehorned into the current bill. The health care reform debate advances a step, but its status remains in flux as too many uncertainties and too much infighting loom ahead.

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Posted in: News, Politics