Baucus Kicks Off Health-Care Reform Debate with 89-Page Memo
By Ceci Connolly
The early positioning over health-care reform has begun and -- almost -- everyone's making nice.
Despite significant policy differences between them, President-elect Barack Obama and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had nothing but happy talk Wednesday on their ability to revamp the nation's $2.1 trillion health system.
Baucus, whose committee has jurisdiction over much of health legislation, unveiled a 89-page position paper today outlining his vision for granting every American coverage within the next few years.
Even before formal release of the proposal, Obama's transition team had issued a statement saying how eager the president-elect is to work with Baucus, Congress and everyone else "to make quality, affordable health care a reality for all Americans."
In a well-attended news conference, Baucus downplayed the fact that Obama does not support a requirement that every American purchase health insurance. Baucus supports the such policies, known as individual mandates, after certain changes are made, such as offering subsidies to low-income families, giving tax breaks to small businesses and expanding some government health programs.
"Our bills are much more similar than they are different," he said. "It's very similar in approach."
Nevertheless, he did not back down on the mandate question.
"For this to work, every American's got to be included," Baucus said. "I do believe we'll work that out with the president-elect very satisfactorily. I don't think that's going to be an issue."
The only sour note of the day came from Baucus' Republican counterpart on the committee, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who is clearly suspicious of how Democrats might pay for a broad expansion of health coverage.
"It's not a time for rosy scenarios," he warned.
Add up the present deficit, the Wall Street bailout and perhaps a new economic stimulus package and "we're heading toward a deficit that's 10 percent of the economy," he said. "So paying for health-care reform needs to be done in an intellectually honest way."
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