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The Max Baucus Committee

PH2009072003366.jpgThere's been a lot of anxiety over leaks outlining the compromises being made in the Senate Finance Committee's health-care plan. Among these compromises is a rejection of the public option and the absence of an employer mandate. Disappointing stuff. But, at this point, completely predictable.

Look at this picture. Study it. This is who is in the room helping Baucus put together his bill. Olympia Snowe, Mike Enzi, Chuck Grassley, Jeff Bingaman and Kent Conrad. In a Senate of 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans, the health-care reform bill is being written by three centrist Democrats, one centrist Republicans, and two conservative Republicans. And until last week, Orrin Hatch was in the room, too.

This is not the Finance Committee's bill. This is the Max Baucus Committee's Bill. And there's not a liberal -- or even a Democrat traditionally associated with health-care policy -- working on it. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of Finance's health subcommittee, is not included in the negotiations. Nor is Ron Wyden, who has written the Healthy Americans Act. Chuck Schumer isn't in the room, nor is John Kerry, Debbie Stabenow or Maria Cantwell.

The question is whether Baucus's final product will matter. Rockefeller and the other Democrats on the committee have felt excluded from the negotiations and will want major changes before they can sign onto the final product. Then the Finance bill will have to be reconciled with the more liberal legislation built by the HELP Committee. Then it will have to go to the floor, where it will need the support of people like Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown just as much as it will need Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh. And then, if it passes those tests, it will have to be reconciled with the House's legislation.

All of which is to say that the Baucus process is attracting an immense amount of interest, but the product may not look a lot like the bill that Congress eventually considers. And the reason is simple enough: Baucus's process doesn't look a lot like Congress. Baucus, Enzi, Snow, Grassley, Bingaman, and Conrad all think of themselves as dealmakers, but right now, they're not cutting a deal on behalf of anyone but themselves.

Photo credit: Melina Mara -- The Washington Post Photo.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 28, 2009; 11:14 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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You bring up a good point Ezra, and I guess the survivability of this plan will have to rest on whether or not Baucus is willing to fight for it. My guess is that there would not have been this level of negotiation and delay if it was something that Baucus would then go ahead and vote for an amendment to replace. I've written about this development a little bit more here:

Posted by: smhjr1 | July 28, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

the first steps of the fate of american health care reform in the hands of a select group of upper-class men, and one woman.

the composition of that photograph looks like it was taken in a boardroom during the eisenhower administration, in the fifties.

he first steps of the fate of american health care reform entrusted to a select group of upper-class men, and one woman.
i wonder what they enjoyed for lunch, after discussing the fates of millions of uninsured people, and deciding against a public option.

Posted by: jkaren | July 28, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Given the likely structure of the Baucus bill leaked in the AP story last, (i.e., no public plan, no employer mandate) can you seen this thing surviving a CBO assessment? The original HELP bill with no employer mandate got ravaged in the original assessment. Barring any unreported cost cutting (besides subsidies only up to 300%), there's no way I see this getting a smaller dollar amount than the tri-committee bill.

Posted by: mayorm | July 28, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

i do not know much about the ins and outs of senate tactics but i have questions

what would cause baucus to act in this manner?

in the past have other democratic chairman behaved like baucus has?

does the approach taken by baucus and his gang increase or decrease their chances of having some of their goals accomplished?

what does the cbo director's seeming active role with this group mean? is his invovlement with the group appropriate? allowed? isn't it partisanship? how did pelosi and the dems let a guy like this guy get the job he has?

Posted by: jamesoneill | July 28, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

It's worth wondering whether a plan like this can even get out of the FINANCE COMMITTEE. Only the three Republicans in the room are likely to vote for it - Hatch walked out, and everyone else on the committee is to the right of him. As for the Democrats, centrists on the committee not participating in these discussions like Lincoln, Carper and Bill Nelson may sign on (though Nelson has to be sensitive to health care issues), but will anyone else? Menendez? Schumer? Cantwell? Kerry? Stabenow? Rockefeller? Wyden? I don't see this kind of deal getting 12 votes without major changes in committee.

Posted by: dday212 | July 28, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

"Baucus, Enzi, Snow, Grassley, Bingaman, and Conrad all think of themselves as dealmakers, but right now, they're not cutting a deal on behalf of anyone but themselves."

Max seems to have forgotten about his old team ....

I honestly cannot believe the Dem leadership's been so silent on the fact he's locked everyone out of negotiations. Dday212 raises a good point: how will this thing ever get any votes if only a few senators have controlled the process? Is this going to go on forever?

Posted by: Chris_ | July 28, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

It has been interesting to listen to the whine of media liberals as this process has righted itself and moved, as legislation does, at a glacial pace while comprimises are made.

A not-bipartisan bill done under recoincilation will have a time limit - consider the Bush tax cuts that are expiring. The health "change" process is expected to unfold over MANY years. If the law changes in the middle then what's supposed to happen may not. By the time a reconcilation health reform expired the other party could (God Forbid) be in power again. Do we want to take that risk?

If this were happening in the 1950s there wouldn't even be ONE woman in that room. All people of color have is one man, the President, and he's not there either.

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 28, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

In the next Congress, can the Democrats strip Baucus of his committee chair?

Posted by: farrell_bill | July 28, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that Iowa is the largest state represented in a room where they claim to be working for a nation of more than 300 million people.

There's what, less than 10 million people represented there?

Posted by: J-NC | July 28, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I think Bingaman is sort of an odd case in that he is also on the HELP committee and claims on his website to "strongly support" a public option.

Whatever comes out of the Finance committee, my guess is that in the end Bingaman will push for a final bill more like the HELP version.

And even though he is up for reelection in 2010, he really doesn't have anything to worry about, having won his last two in huge blowouts. Add to that the massive shift to the left in statewide elections in 2008 and he looks perfectly safe and free to vote however he wants.

Posted by: mgnm | July 28, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Jeff Bingaman is a centrist Democrat? I don't think I can go along with that one Ezra...

Posted by: AdviseConsent | July 28, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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