As I See It: Cheers for Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who spent months keeping his "Gang of Six" together, negotiating with Republican senators over health care reform, no matter how insincere, cowardly or irritating they were.
Cheers for Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who spent months keeping his "Gang of Six" together, negotiating with Republican senators over health care reform, no matter how insincere, cowardly or irritating they were. Even when Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, caved in to the lie about "death panels," giving it credence in a town hall forum, Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, kept Grassley and the others at the table.
The result is a health care reform bill that is hardly perfect — it needs several refinements — but which can jump-start the debate over final legislation among Democrats in the House and Senate. And, after a long summer of circuses and freak shows, Democrats are the only members whose views ought to matter. Republicans have taken themselves out of negotiations, choosing to sell their souls to the unhinged fringe led by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
For all of Baucus' efforts to compromise with his GOP colleagues, not a single one of the three Republicans in the Gang of Six stood with him Wednesday when he announced his plan. Even the usually thoughtful Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has, for the moment, caved in to intense pressure from her party not to help the passage of health care reform.
But therein lies the brilliance of the Baucus strategy: There cannot be a doubt in the reality-based universe that the Obama administration and Senate Democrats reached out in the spirit of bipartisan compromise but found their outreach greeted with incoming mortar rounds. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., revealed the GOP strategy in July, when he said that killing health care would be President Obama's "Waterloo. It will break him."
Never mind the millions of Americans who desperately need a health care system that doesn't bankrupt them but actually provides treatment when they get sick: All that the GOP is interested in is ruining Obama's presidency.
Because Baucus was keen to compromise with fiscal conservatives, including many in his own party, his bill would meet the president's test of fiscal responsibility: It does not "add one dime" to the deficit. Indeed, it goes further. The widely respected, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the Baucus proposal is likely to cut the deficit by nearly $50 billion over the next decade and even more after that.
Still, there are problems aplenty with the stingy approach, as Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W. Va., and other Democrats made clear. For one thing, it still leaves health care unaffordable for many, even though they will be (rightfully) forced to purchase it. That's especially true for low-earning younger adults.
About 10 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 26 lack health insurance, according to the Urban Institute. Some simply don't purchase it because they're young and healthy and feel invincible. Others don't buy it because they can't afford it. Several experts have said, according to The Washington Post, that even the least expensive plan available under the Baucus plan would cost more than $100 a month.
There are many avenues of compromise available that wouldn't bankrupt young adults or fatten the deficit. So now it's time to get down to business and find those compromises. Subsidies, for example, could be a bit more generous. Baucus and his colleagues kept the total 10-year cost of the Finance Committee's plan under a trillion dollars because, apparently, that's a psychological dealbreaker. But since the plan comes in at about $774 billion, they've got a bit of wiggle room.
For all the August invective, polls show half of Americans still want health care reform. But there is a sharp generational divide: Sixty percent of Americans between 18 and 34 support health care reform, while 60 percent of those over 65 oppose it. Why are seniors so opposed to allowing others to enjoy a sliver of the benefits they do? (Medicare is a government-run, single-payer program; its clients receive far more benefits, on average, than they and their employers paid in.) When did the Greatest Generation become the Greediest Generation?
Younger adults deserve a health care system that works, too. The nation depends on their good health to keep the economy rolling — which pays for the health care that the seniors enjoy. So let the serious negotiations begin.
Cynthia Tucker is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.