The full Senate Finance Committee takes up health care legislation this week and there are already a slew of amendments that would significantly alter the proposal from the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
"After months of closed-door negotiations with a handful of senators on the Finance Committee, which Mr. Baucus leads, the full panel now gets to put its imprint on what could be landmark legislation to overhaul the health system," The New York Times reports. "Senators have offered 564 amendments, all posted on the committee Web site, and the Republican proposals generally reveal seemingly irreconcilable differences. While they would gut the bill, one Republican, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, wants important changes but appears ready to get behind it, provided Mr. Baucus can keep his fellow Democrats in line."
"For Mr. Baucus, the challenge will be to stop his fellow Democrats — they outnumber Republicans 13 to 10 — from shifting the bill so hard to the left that they chase away Ms. Snowe, who could provide the crucial 60th vote needed to get the measure through the Senate" (Herszenhorn, 9/20).
Roll Call: "As Senate Democrats look to close ranks heading into this week's markup of the Finance Committee health care bill, a perhaps larger political minefield looms — the merger of that measure with a competing Senate plan. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to reconcile the two bills, forcing Democrats to choose between the nonprofit medical cooperatives proposed by Finance and a public insurance option contained in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee bill. Moderates tend to favor the co-ops, liberals prefer the public insurance option" (Drucker, 9/21).
Richmond Times-Dispatch: "[A]dvocates worry that the Baucus proposal doesn't provide sufficient subsidies for low and middle-income Americans to afford insurance. They also voice concern about a proposal to require businesses that don't insure employees to pick up the cost of subsidies for those who qualify. Other concerns "revolve around reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and other providers through the federal Medicare program for the elderly. The Baucus proposal is counting on substantial savings from Medicare, but doctors say they're already been shortchanged by a reimbursement formula that doesn't keep pace with their costs" (Martz, 9/21).
Politico: "The Democrat-versus-Democrat battle over Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus's health care proposal is more than just political posturing: It's the latest sign that Senate Democrats so far lack a clear public leader on the issue at a crucial time in the debate." Part of the problem is institutional: "unlike the House, the Senate is a body that gives each member great power to influence the legislative process — significantly limiting the power of leaders. Another part of the problem is the sweeping nature of the issue: Health care reform falls into the jurisdiction of several House and Senate committees, putting far more cooks in the kitchen than on most other matters on Capitol Hill. And part of the problem is personnel." Without Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., "there are individual Democratic senators playing leading roles in certain parts of the debate, but no overall go-to guy — a figure who could serve as a trusted public leader on the issue, providing a clear argument for the bill across the airwaves and acting as the chief deal maker behind the scenes" (Raju, 9/21).
Kaiser Health News has a Q & A with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who "says the current health care proposals in Congress don't do enough to slow spending, grant workers new choices in coverage or guarantee that middle-class Americans will be able to afford insurance. But, the longtime health policy guru says, there are ways to fix the legislation" (Appleby, 9/18).
Roll Call: "Interest groups and industry players with a stake in the health care debate ramped up their lobbying efforts over the weekend as they tried to line up support heading into a Senate Finance Committee markup set to begin Tuesday. … An insurance industry source said that the Senate Finance product was not as harmful to the industry as the House bill, which includes a public insurance option. But, this source said, insurers are concerned about amendments that would beef up the current insurance cooperative framework in the Finance bill authored by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.)" (Ackley, 9/21).
The Boston Globe: "The pitched battle over a national health care plan is inflicting collateral damage on other legislation in Congress, with some lawmakers and advocates arguing that it has sidetracked action on other urgent priorities" (Wirzbicki, 9/21).