After a couple of weeks that have generally looked pretty good for Team Blue on health care reform, Max Baucus’s Senate Finance Committee bill suddenly finds itself devoid of supporters. And everyone seems to have their own, unique way of objecting.
Firstly, there’s Jay Rockefeller, who opposes the lack of a pubic option.
Ron Wyden doesn’t think the subsidies are sufficient.
Then there’s Olympia Snowe, who doesn’t like the funding mechanism.
John Kerry also has issues with the funding plan — different issues than Snowe does — and implies that the bill needs significant changes.
Mike Enzi and Chuck Grassley, who were never really on board in the first place, have a litany of objections.
Kent Conrad now wants the CBO to score the bill with a 20-year time window — an unorthodox move which could have a variety of motives, but if nothing else introduces another wrench into the works.
At least Jeff Bingaman is still on board. For now.
These are not just any old random set of Senators opposing Baucus’s plan — these are the thought leaders on health care reform.
Negotiations are funny things. Sometimes the scariest moments come when you’re closest to a settlement, as all sides feel emboldened to take the last opportunity to demonstrate resolve. Leverage in a negotiation is not necessarily a zero-sum affair, since nobody has any leverage if there’s no hope to reach an agreement. So some of this maneuvering, perhaps, is a reflection of the bill moving closer to passage and not further away.
But let’s be clear — some of this is Baucus’s chickens coming home to roost. When you make a unilateral decision to negotiate with only five other people from a 23-person committee and 100-person Senate, and two of those five people have clear electoral disincentives against supporting any plan that you might come up with, the negotiations are liable to end in failure far more often than not. The flurry of on-the-record statements against Baucus’s reform plans — not “leaks”, not trial balloons — points toward a defective process.
And that may suit Democrats just fine. There are at least three other starting points for a final showdown over health care: the House Tri-Committee bill, the Senate HELP bill, and possibly also the White’s House’s statement of principles, some of which remain vaguely defined. Many of the objections raised to BaucusCare would necessarily apply to one or more of those bills too — but they’d appear to be starting from no worse a position than Baucus’s plan itself.