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So that spotlight-loving senator from Montana has supposedly cut the healthcare bill in the finance committee to $1 trillion.  But he refuses to tell us, or even the other Democrats on the committee, what the cuts were that got the bill down to that price tag.  Follow below the fold, for a review of Max Baucus' behavior over the past few months and how we can help stop him from ruining the final version of the healthcare legislation...

Numerous diaries have chronicled how unbelievably conflicted Baucus' behavior has been in regards to healthcare reform.  This is a man who gets one quarter of his fundraising from the health insurance industry, and yet claims with a straight face that he is for progressive health care reform.  His fundraising is certainly enough of a conflict of interest to question his motives in working so closely with Republicans in crafting his bill and his adamant refusal to consider a public option.  Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown has a really interesting story that details Baucus and his group of 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats that have been crafting the finance committee bill behind closed doors.  The names of the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" (apparently irony is lost on the senator from MT):

Yet in the last month, he began leaning heavily on six Finance senators who he thought would be most amenable to a bipartisan compromise: Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

Why would Democrats be working with such conservative Republicans as Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, when we only need to get to 60 votes for cloture and will hopefully soon have 60 Democratic votes?  The usual targets of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe should be the only GOP senators that Democrats target and the Senate leadership should make clear that any Democrats who do not support the bill are free to vote against it on final passage but strictly forbid Democratic votes to sustain any filibuster, making harsh penalties known in advance.  But I am getting ahead of myself here...

So Baucus, as Finance Committee chairman, has largely been crafting this bill in the dark, out of public view, while still making frequent statements that reveal nothing, yet get his smiling face on the evening news.  Then we hear that his committee will be pushing mark-up of the bill until after the July 4th recess, when originally the goal was to have mark-up finished before that date, because "more time was needed".  Ironically, Baucus still had time to attend a weekend fundraising retreat a few days later flush with healthcare lobbyists, as chronicled here in a diary by mcjoan.  One wonders if he was as reticent to share details of what his committee is contemplating with those lobbyists as he is with the general public and other Democrats.

So then yesterday, we get some big news: the Baucus bill has been cut back below his artificial cap of $1 trillion.  And how did they do that?  As the very flip Sen Kent Conrad puts it: "Subsidies".  As in, they have hacked away anywhere from $200-600 billion from the federal subsidies that would have helped the uninsured and underinsured to get healthcare.  And we also had the pleasure of seeing Sens Hatch, Graham and Grassley on TV over the past few days saying that they cannot support a bill that has any public plan.

So now we're likely looking at a finance committee bill that has a mandate (more customers, insurance cos love that), taxes employer healthcare benefits above a certain amount (why is this more tenable than changing itemized deductions for the wealthy?) and yet will have no public plan to provide true competition both in cost and coverage to the private plans offered by insurance companies.  At some point you have to think this won't help anything and would in fact make things much worse in a few years.  Costs will continue to rise without the public plan, but people will be obligated to buy healthcare insurance out of their own pocket because of the mandate and thanks to the subsidy cuts they won't be able to afford it.  

So looking down the road, how do we stop him?  Again, going back to Brown's article:

Baucus must first stitch together enough votes to pass the bill out of committee. But his hope is that the bipartisan coalition that helps him do that will then become the foundation upon which he can build a filibuster-proof majority in the full Senate, and maintain a seat at the table through the conference committee, the sources said.

Baucus wants to be a senate conferee.  This CANNOT happen.  If he were on the conference committee it would be like having a health insurance mole in the room, making subtle or not-so-subtle changes for their benefit.  The senate finance and HELP committee bills must be merged after they are passed out of committee. So, much like the whip count effort in the house that Firedoglake has spearheaded, we need to whip the finance committee to either kill the Baucus bill or add a public option (not Conrad's co-op proposal) to it and thus weaken Baucus' clout.

This is the membership of the senate finance committee:

Democrats:
JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER IV, WV
KENT CONRAD, ND
JEFF BINGAMAN, NM
JOHN F. KERRY, MA
BLANCHE L. LINCOLN, AR
RON WYDEN, OR
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, NY
DEBBIE STABENOW, MI
MARIA CANTWELL, WA
BILL NELSON, FL
ROBERT MENENDEZ, NJ
THOMAS CARPER, DE

Republicans:
CHUCK GRASSLEY, IA
ORRIN G. HATCH, UT
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE, ME
JON KYL, AZ
JIM BUNNING, KY
MIKE CRAPO, ID
PAT ROBERTS, KS
JOHN ENSIGN, NV
MIKE ENZI, WY
JOHN CORNYN, TX

Obviously, Conrad and Bingaman are lost causes given they're part of the "coalition".  But every other Democrat should be lobbied to vote against this bill if there is no true public option included (and tell them Conrad's co-op plan doesn't count).  If your state's senator is on this committee please call and call often!  And if you happen to be represented by one of the Republicans listed above call them too!  They don't need to be told why you want them to vote against the bill...

As John Marshall at TPM has pointed out, luckily some Democrats like Rockefeller from WV have seen the light, so they shouldn't need too much persuading.  From the Charleston Gazette:

"But a public plan, run by the government, will make sure doctors get paid, hospitals get paid and people get good health care.  Today, an extra 15 percent, 20 percent or 25 percent [of health-care costs] goes to pay private insurance companies. In a public plan, you just pay for what you get. There are no marketers, no people shuffling paper, no one making television ads."

On Thursday, Rockefeller admitted he expects little bipartisan support.

"There is a very small chance any Republicans will vote for this health-care plan. They were against Medicare and Medicaid [created in the 1960s]. They voted against children's health insurance.  We have a moral choice. This is a classic case of the good guys versus the bad guys. I know it is not political for me to say that.  But do you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice."

In the end though, only Harry Reid has the power to appoint conferees.  We all need to start calling him now and frequently, telling him that Baucus (and Conrad too) should not be appointed as Senate conferees.  Also call your senator(s) if they are Democrats to tell them to talk to Reid about not appointing Baucus to the conference committee.  Also tell them that you expect them to vote AGAINST any healthcare legislation without a true public option and that you do not consider a co-op a public option.  

Harry Reid Contact info:
Email
Phone: 202-224-3542
Toll Free for Nevadans:
1-866-SEN-REID (736-7343)

Everyone on this site needs to force the Senate leadership to start contemplating how this is going to unfold NOW, before its too late.  Its unfortunate enough that small state, conservative Democrats like Baucus and Conrad, have important committee chairmanships.  We don't need to further increase their power to destroy progressive legislation by appointing them to the conference committee, which is the last stand for influencing health care legislation.  

This is Conrad the other day, from a story in The Hill:  

Asked whether abandoning the public plan would cause liberal senators to vote against the bill, Conrad replied, “Probably it’s not useful for me to go down that trail.”

 
Let's make it "useful" for Conrad and Baucus to consider the consequences of their decisions by making it a necessity!  Everyone working on healthcare needs to realize they have to work to get liberal/progressive votes every bit as much as those of the so-called centrists.

Originally posted to LibMachiavelli on Fri Jun 26, 2009 at 09:17 AM PDT.

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