Tuesday 15 September 2009

How to kill the Baucus bill

There is a measurable possibility that Baucus’ health reform bill is so bad that it won’t even get out of Baucus’ own committee.

The Finance Committee consists of 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans.

The Democrats consist of three people who want to go slow on reform (Baucus, Conrad, Lincoln), four guys who hate the current compromise bill (Rockefeller, Kerry, Wyden, Schumer), and six who could potentially be persuaded either way (Bingaman, Stabenow, Cantwell, Nelson-FL, Menendez, Carper).

The Republicans consist of the GOP half of the Gang Of Six – Grassley, Enzi and Snowe – plus Hatch, and six out-and-out fascists.

Baucus has used everything but candy and strippers to get any Republican to endorse his bill. He has made gigantic, appalling concessions on everything from the public option to abortion to the non-existent death panels. And he has gotten nowhere. McConnell says flat-out few if any Republicans will support for Baucus bill; the GOP half of the infamous Gang Of Six won’t support it. Even Snowe said she still has “concerns”. The whole point of making all those concessions was to win over the Republicans, and it was a colossal failure.

But that’s just the beginning of Baucus’ problems: he is now getting plowed by his own party. For starters, he angered a lot of Democrats by leaving them out of the “Gang Of Six” process. Rockefeller has already said he won’t vote for the Baucus bill. Even Wyden, an early proponent of the co-ops Baucus is trying to sell now, is angry about the bill and has concerns; so does Kerry.

And with a little finagling, somebody like Schumer could see to it that even more Democrats reject the bill, loaded as it is with giveaways to the insurers and the GOP. Conrad and the other deficit hawks could be persuaded to reject the Baucus bill on the argument that the HELP Committee bill, which contains the public option, actually saves $260 billion over the Baucus bill. Nelson could be wooed with some language reassuring the nervous Florida seniors. A clever Democrat like Schumer could arrange a little stampede and kill Baucuscare.

Baucus has already lost Rockefeller: if he loses any more Democrats, he must then win over Republicans, which he has tried without success to do, for months. And he has no bribes left: anything he offers to either side will antagonize the other side.

All of this shows vividly the folly of pursuing the siren song of bipartisanship: the gap between the two sides is too great. Even with no giveaways to the GOP, the Democrats were suspicious of the Baucus bill; even with a ton of giveaways, Baucus couldn’t get the GOP to buy in. The gap between Democrat and Republican was always unbridgeable: instead Baucus should have been working to bridge the gap between the two wings of his own party.

The Gang Of Six tried one more time Tuesday night to hammer out a compromise. No dice.

The effort to forge a compromise has in fact backfired, yielding a bill which has been ridiculed by Democrats, Republicans, the media, everyone. And now that Baucus has unveiled it, it becomes even more of a target, the way the public option was a target for months. Once the media takes a good look at the Baucus plan, support will slide even further.

Currently Reid is paying lip service to the Baucus plan, allegedly seeking passage of it by 28 September. But meanwhile he will be meeting with all the Senate Democrats behind closed doors on Thursday, the day after everyone has had a chance to dissect the Baucus package and realize how much they hate it. Even if the Baucus committee passes the Baucus package, Reid will take over and “merge” that bill with the HELP bill; during that process, all the Democrats who hate the Baucus bill will either rip it apart or discard it entirely. Meanwhile Reid will cancel the week-long October recess if he thinks the Republicans will use it to slow things down. Then, budget reconciliation: even the non-confrontational Reid said straight off --“If we can’t get the 60 votes we need, then we’ll have no alternative” to reconciliation. Reid won’t be stopped from passing a bill, and he is confident that even the Blue Dogs won’t support any effort toward a filibuster, if things go that way.

Meanwhile Pelosi is holding back to see what the Senate does. If the Senate does pass something with the public option in it, the House could simply grit their teeth and vote for the Senate bill as is, which means they don’t have to risk doing a conference report and going back to the Senate for another vote.

And well they should. The public option is the smart plan, it saves money, and it has the support of a majority in the House and the Senate and the American people and the nation’s doctors and even wingnut places like Arkansas. With the exception of the Baucus mess, there really is no alternative plan at all, let alone a plan that people can learn, understand and support in a matter of weeks. With a November-December deadline, there isn’t time to sell a new concept. So let’s just get it done: Obama has the 50 Senators he needs to pass the public option through reconciliation.

The only reason to hesitate, would be a desire by Democrats to avoid humiliating Baucus. But…what can I say? Baucus already humiliated himself with his summer-long effort to suck up to Chuck Grassley. So let’s move on, shall we?

Axelrod met with Congressional Democrats around the same time as Reid, preaching party unity, which is ObamaSpeak for “don’t screw this up, Blue Dogs, or your asses are gone in 2010”.

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