Baucus Finally Releases Health-Care Plan
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, who has been working on a bipartisan
health-care plan for months, finally released his plan. The only catch is that none of the
Republicans on his committee have said they would
for it. The plan creates regional health co-ops to give consumers some choice in where they
get their insurance. The plan does not include a mandate that large employers provide
health-care coverage for their employees, as the other four bills in Congress do.
Also unique among the five bills is that the Baucus bill would tax insurance plans worth
more than $8000 for individuals and $21,000 for families. This bill is quite different from
the one the Senate HELP committee has already passed, so merging the two into a single Senate
bill will be contentious. Also, if no Republicans ultimately vote for this bill, it will
be hard for Baucus to maintain that the main features of his bill should be present in the
final Senate bill because it is bipartisan and the HELP bill is not.
Obama Will Address Congress on Health Care Reform Tonight
Despite a cottage industry trafficking in rumors, no one but a tiny group of
insiders knows what President Obama will say in his speech tonight. He might keep
it vague and not let on which of the five bills in Congress he favors, basically
signaling to Congress: "Pass whatever you want and I'll sign it." Or he could come
out and fight for what he really wants in the bill. It is predictable already that
Democrats will say it was a great speech and Republicans will say it was just warmed-over
platitudes. It probably doesn't matter what anyone not a member of Congress thinks at
this point. The real issue is what the Democrats in Congress will do next week.
Everyone seems totally fixated on the presence or absence of a public option but
almost no one is thinking about a compromise that creates real competition among
private insurance companies, in the same way there is competition between private
airlines and private telephone companies. Steps that would be needed are repealing
the health-insurance industry's exemption from the antitrust laws and chartering all
health-insurance companies nationally instead of by state. In this way if some company
had something close to a monopoly somewhere, some other company would be likely to
see this as a business opportunity and jump in to compete with them.
If there is no public option and no mechanism for private companies to compete with
each other, there will be no way to keep health costs down and the system will be
unsustainable. Such a
has been proposed by senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) but it seems
to be going nowhere.
The real problem is not the Republicans, most of whom are likely to oppose any bill no matter
what it contains. The problem is the Democrats, who are deeply divided. The Blue Dogs
in the House and a small group of conservative senators don't want to change very much.
On the other hand, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the progressive caucus in the House
want fundamental change. Each group needs the other one's votes but they completely
disagree on their goals. Anything could yet happen, especially if the House and Senate
pass very different bills. Then the conference report and the potential use of the
budget reconciliation procedure (which needs only 50 votes plus Joe Biden in the Senate)
will loom very large.
How to Gerrymander New York
If you are curious how gerrymandering works in practice, this
at Swing State is a must read.
In this case it is a Democrat showing how to maximize the number of congressional
districts Democrats could win in New York after redistricting, when the state is
expected to lose one representative, but it could equally well be Republicans
redistricting Texas. The goal of the gerrymander is to make about 27 of the 28 districts
reasonably Democratic while stuffing all the Republicans into one overwhelmingly
red district. Needless to say, this strategy leads to some strange-looking districts.
Is Johnson Able to Run the Banking Committee?
If Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) takes over the gavel of the HELP committee from the
late Sen. Ted Kennedy--something far from certain--he will have to give up his chairmanship of the banking
committee. Next in line at Banking is Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage
in Dec. 2006. An
in Politico quotes many Democrats saying Johnson
is ready to go, despite his getting around in a motorized wheelchair, missing many
Senate votes, and being barely able to talk. His health is not a minor issue.
This committee is where banking reform will start and maybe stop. Johnson is from
a conservative state full of banks (due to bank-friendly state laws) and he is
hardly up to the job of taking on all the big banks, even if he wanted to, which
he probably does not. The next person in line after Johnson is Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI).
Reed is extremely popular in Rhode Island, winning his last two elections with 73% and 78%
of the vote, respectively, has no statewide banking industry to protect, and is one of
the most liberal senators. If majority leader Harry Reid were to skip over Johnson
and pick Reed as chairman, the banks would have a very, very, serious opponent and no
ability to pressure him at all.
If, instead, Reid goes by strict seniority, Johnson will get the nod and there will
probably no banking reform. Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans do not always
honor the seniority system. They pick chairmen who will be most effective in carrying
out their program. The Democrats could learn a lot from them.
On the other hand, there is a chance that the chairman of the House Banking Committee,
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), will take the lead and come up with a bill that passes the
House, thus forcing Johnson to take up the issue. But Frank might also conclude that with
Johnson in charge on the Senate side, the bill won't get anywhere in the Senate, so why bother?
If, however, Dodd decides to stay on as chairman of the Banking Committee (possibly because
he doesn't want to see the enfeebled Johnson head the committee),
then the members of the HELP Committee will play musical chairs. Next in line is Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA),
who will have to decide whether he wants to run the powerful HELP Committee or the far less
powerful Agriculture Committee, but which is important to his state. Harkin is a strong liberal.
Next after him is Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). If Harkin gets a shot at HELP and takes it,
he will have to give up Agriculture. Next in line there are Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT),
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), all of whom will refuse the chairmanship
because they already chair far more powerful committees (Judiciary, Budget, and Finance, respectively).
Then we get to Lincoln, who currently chairs nothing and will probably accept the job since Arkansas
is a fairly rural state and she is in a tough reelection fight in 2010. Her slogan in 2010 would then
be: "Vote for Blanche 'Mrs. Pork' Lincoln."
For liberals, the dream scenario is Dodd at Banking trying to revive his reelection campaign by giving the
banks hell, Harkin at HELP fighting for a public option, and Lincoln at Agriculture, where she can't do
much damage. For conservatives, the best case is a nervous Dodd at HELP, a weak Johnson leaving the banks in peace
at Banking, and Harkin at Agriculture mostly trying to increase the Iowa pig count.
All in all, there could be quite a shakeup in the next
few days. There are all kinds of rumors floating around, but nothing definite.
Kennedy and Healey Not Running for Massachusetts Senate Seat
Both former Representative Joseph Kennedy (D) (Bobby's son) and former lieutenant
governor Kerry Healey (R) have
they will not run for Ted Kennedy's seat. Both would have been overwhelming favorites to
get their party's respective nominations had they tried.
Multiway primaries are now likely. Here is a
of some of the possible Democratic contenders.
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