Baucus healthcare plan takes flak from both sides of the aisle

Republicans say it's too costly. Liberal Democrats complain that it doesn't do enough for the uninsured. But unlike House plans, it wouldn't add to the deficit.

Hyungwon Kang / Reuters
Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, discussed the healthcare reform bill Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

The test of how far the Baucus plan moves the congressional debate on healthcare reform comes down to how many Republicans sign on to the plan. So far, the answer is none.

Democrats waited months for the so-called Gang of Six in the Senate Finance Committee to produce a bipartisan plan, first targeted for release last March. The Finance panel was the only committee to attempt to work with Republicans to develop a draft proposal.

In the end, Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana – facing a deadline to start the Finance Committee markup next week – stood alone.

For now, his Republican co-negotiators are not with him, including Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Michael Enzi of Wyoming, and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

“This is the most complicated bill any of us have ever worked on. It affects about 16 percent of the economy and 100 percent of the people. ... Although there is a sense of urgency, getting it done fast is not as important as getting it done correctly” said Senator Enzi, in a statement. He and other Republican leaders are calling on a refocus on the issues where there is broad, bipartisan support.

House and Senate Republican leaders blasted the Baucus plan soon after its release at a mid-day briefing today. “This partisan proposal cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars, and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a statement. “Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy.”

House Republican leader John Boehner called it the “wrong prescription” for tough economic times.

Some Democrats, who say that Congress lost precious months waiting for a bipartisan deal that never arrived, were no less critical. “Seldom have so many waited for so long for so little,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) of Texas. “This isn’t negotiation; it is capitulation to the insurance industry.”

But fiscal conservatives in the House Democratic Caucus, who have been cool to House versions of the bill, called the Senate plan an important step forward. “It is deficit-neutral, and it takes real steps to bring down the cost of healthcare over the long term,” says Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) of South Dakota, who co-chairs the Blue Dog Coalition.

The Baucus proposal requires most legal residents of the US to obtain health insurance and sets up insurance exchanges, including subsidies to poor families, to lower the cost of that mandate. It’s also the sole Democratic plan to pass muster with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and meet President Obama’s pledge to offer a plan that is fully paid for.

In July, the nonpartisan CBO estimated that the House plan would add $239 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. By contrast, the Baucus plan would cut the federal deficit by $49 billion over the next decade, according to a CBO estimate released today.

The plan closes significant gaps of interest to Republicans, including lowering costs to the federal treasury and adding measures to deter those in the country illegally from gaining access.


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