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How Did Mike Enzi Become One of the Six Senators Deciding Health-Care Reform?

PH2009071302336.jpg

Jon Cohn has an excellent post about the peculiar presence of Sen. Mike Enzi in Max Baucus's health-care working group. Enzi is not an Olympia Snowe or an Arlen Specter. He's one of the most conservative members of the Senate. As Cohn documents, his amendments during the Health Committee's process were all in the direction of cutting apart subsidies or giving insurers more freedom to risk select. That would be fine were he just one member on a committee of 15. But he is one of six. And no one in that room is as liberal as Enzi is conservative.

Enzi's presence, though, gets to one of the real peculiarities of the Senate. Not all moderates are dealmakers. And not all dealmakers are moderates. Enzi is a dealmaker. He's good at working across party lines. He has a well-respected staff and an engaging personal manner. He is in that room because Baucus believes him the sort of Republican who knows how to cut a deal. Like Ted Kennedy or Orrin Hatch, he is far from the center of the Senate, but able to work with the other party when he can find agreement.

What that means, though, is that like Ted Kennedy or Orrin Hatch, he doesn't usually sign onto legislation he doesn't support. He's not one of the centrists content to cut deals around the edge of a bill. If Enzi is to support this bill, it will have to be conservative enough to win his support. But it is hard to imagine such a bill getting through the 10 Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee who have been locked out of these negotiations or the 60 Democrats in the Senate who can't get in the door or the 256 Democrats who form the liberal-leaning majority in the House of Representatives.

It is hard, in other words, to imagine a bill that Enzi supports remaining a bill that Enzi supports. And Enzi, and Baucus, can see that as easily as I can. Which leaves the question of what, exactly, everybody's end game is here. Once this bill leaves Baucus's committee, Baucus has no control over it, and the deals he cut have no force. Indeed, the only real chance that his deal has to survive the legislative process intact is if the recess leaves health-care reform so unpopular that desperate Democrats will support anything a few Republicans will attach their names to. In that way, the delay forced by Baucus's meetings may be very good for Baucus's deal, if not for health-care reform as a whole.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 6, 2009; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: The Gender Politics of the Financial Crisis

Comments

Max Baucus and the other 5 senators seem to be putting on a over at the Senate Finance Committee. They are doing anything they can to delay the process.

We all know there will never be a perfect bill, and by postponing the actual creation of a bill, they are giving opponent of reform exactly what they need: more time to define and drive public opinion to their side.

The flip side of holding up the bill is that Max Baucus is single-handedly strangling any type of enthusiasm the grassroots might have had. I think his group is doing it willfully, which is the truly sad part.

I wish the Democratic leadership in the senate would step up and put an end to their little charade.

Posted by: JERiv | August 6, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Wish I could edit... meant to say "putting on a show".

Posted by: JERiv | August 6, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, why do we even care about these six? Why doesn't Reid just move forward with what he's got? Not only must they know Baucus' conservatives aren't going to help make a good bill, but the longer things are delayed, the less likely it is that anything at all will pass.

Posted by: AZProgressive | August 6, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"that desperate Democrats will support anything a few Republicans will attach their names to"

You have it.

Committee Democrats, no matter what the bill looks like, are not going to be the people that stopped Obama's Health Care and destroyed the Obama Presidency. They will vote Yea for a Baucus-Enzi compromise.

Posted by: bobmcmanus | August 6, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

That is easy. They are setting a few pieces up for a merger, when senate bills and house bill have to become one. So, they are trying to set the goal posts back 50 miles, instead of 10 yards.

I'm not sure it will work, but it is a basic negotiating tactic. And, it makes clear the Max Baucus is interested in a more right-wing outcome at the end of the day. That also makes sense, because he's well paid to pursue that outcome (about $2.2 mil from the industry, I think).

If Baucus can negotiate with Rush Limbaugh, that'd be great because the house isn't going to make this one more right-wing and industry friendly. So, he's got to start at the fringe.

This can all be corrected later, but he's throwing up as many road-blocks as he can to prevent me from being happy w/ the outcome.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | August 6, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm ready to contribute now to the Max Baucas Political Tombstone trust:

"Health Care Reform 2009"

"Murdered by Sen. Max Baucas for political contributions."

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 6, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Before labeling Senator Hatch as far-from-center, re-read his essay entitled "And Still She Moves" which he delivered via CBS television some years ago. In the essay, Hatch uses the deathbed statement of Galileo [Galilei] in support of Federal funding for stem cell research, which Hatch favored: Hatch very vividly makes the point that personal ideological beliefs must be set aside when overwhelming factual evidence is presented.

Some branded as "conservatives" may simply be just that -- conservative. It's not always a bad label.

Holding an opinion isn't bad; in fact, things such as the compromise of 1850 and the like have proven to be absolutely bad
decisions.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 6, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

It is bit surprising that Ezra is asking this question ('what the end game in Senate Finance Committee.') so late in this political fight. When I and possibly other commentators exactly asked what are we hoping to achieve here, those questions were left to wind. I just wish, along with CBO and iMAC (which are all valid points), this issue was discussed earlier.

I am not sure who is responsible for getting Pre. Obama in this Senate box - Sen. Reid or Sen. Baucus. But who has done that needs to be hold 'accountable' and be removed from the leadership position eventually.

Whichever way it goes, Senate Leadership got the fundamental 'call' wrong - engaging with GOP for so long. It is absolutely clear that even Sen. Grassley in the end may not come around.

The question is to bring Sen. Nelson on board, do we have to pay such a high price of buying Sen. Enzi, Grassley and Snowe? That is way too expensive.

With the battle on the road and uphill task for DNC to discredit rowdy meeting disruptor; Dems are essentially back on campaign trail for this issue. This is as if Obama with his back to wall, fighting this great political battle.

Dems did not need Grassley or Enzi to be fiscally balanced to start within these bills. They could have been prudent and CBO could have been brought on the board early....

Now all that is water under the bridge. More and more it looks Obama will have to swallow the bitter pill of substantial loss in public opinion and pass a reform bill without any practical 'public option' (not that I necessarily support that) choice. Liberals will be pushed into the frenzy of fighting angry reform opposition and hopefully in that fight they will forget what they would have lost by engagement with Sen. Enzi!

The damage is Sen. Enzi and any GOPer will in the end not come on the board. But by negotiation and setting the debate, they would have irreversibly moved the debate & bills to Right. These GOP guys will still in the end oppose the bill - they will have the cake and will eat too: influence the bill and politically vote against in the end for some flimsy reason. President is in a box not to call the bluff of these senators, he has essentially lost the control of this debate and is purely in the ‘reactive’ mode; that classic devastation in Politics. Until he vocally harps on what he cannot accept (under what conditions will he veto Health Reform); Public is unlikely to trust him and will consider as ‘too biased’ player in the game. Put simply, Obama is not finding any ‘elevator’ for him to take him to ‘above the fray height, the Presidential latitude’ where he regains People’s trust. As of today he does not have those keys and people do not believe him in Health Reform Debate.

In the end, this is possibly permanent political loss for Obama for the sake of getting something passed. His Presidency will have to move on here afterward with these deeper wounds.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 6, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

It is bit surprising that Ezra is asking this question ('what the end game in Senate Finance Committee.') so late in this political fight. When I and possibly other commentators exactly asked what are we hoping to achieve here, those questions were left to wind. I just wish, along with CBO and iMAC (which are all valid points), this issue was discussed earlier.

I am not sure who is responsible for getting Pre. Obama in this Senate box - Sen. Reid or Sen. Baucus. But who has done that needs to be hold 'accountable' and be removed from the leadership position eventually.

Whichever way it goes, Senate Leadership got the fundamental 'call' wrong - engaging with GOP for so long. It is absolutely clear that even Sen. Grassley in the end may not come around.

The question is to bring Sen. Nelson on board, do we have to pay such a high price of buying Sen. Enzi, Grassley and Snowe? That is way too expensive.

With the battle on the road and uphill task for DNC to discredit rowdy meeting disruptor; Dems are essentially back on campaign trail for this issue. This is as if Obama with his back to wall, fighting this great political battle.

Dems did not need Grassley or Enzi to be fiscally balanced to start within these bills. They could have been prudent and CBO could have been brought on the board early....

Now all that is water under the bridge. More and more it looks Obama will have to swallow the bitter pill of substantial loss in public opinion and pass a reform bill without any practical 'public option' (not that I necessarily support that) choice. Liberals will be pushed into the frenzy of fighting angry reform opposition and hopefully in that fight they will forget what they would have lost by engagement with Sen. Enzi!
%

Posted by: umesh409 | August 6, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

as promised the health reform battle is fierce and getting fiercer

what will we see next?

i am wondering more and more about what caused orin hatch to flee baucus, grassley and the gang of six

Posted by: jamesoneill | August 6, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

"that desperate Democrats will support anything a few Republicans will attach their names to"

The trouble with this is that if the reform is in such bad shape after the recess then why would any Republican especially Enzi sign on to an agreement when simply walking away would be much more in their interest?

I think the delay tactic was designed by Baucus to kill the House bill ... which it has done already ... But I don't see his end strategy now that public opinion is turning quickly.

He wanted to kill the House bill but he may have end up killing any reform.

Posted by: cautious | August 7, 2009 4:27 AM | Report abuse

One more point - these Senators need to understand, how Public will become even more cynical with the institution called Senate. Many Senators are viscerally opposed to Fed getting additional powers to avoid tomorrow's financial crisis on the ground that despite Ben Bernanke delivering today, his predecessor Greenspan screwed it up all. That is a classic example of how the institutional history totally discredits the current occupants and renders it less capable to deliver. Same will happen with Senate. Public by definition has a low opinion of Congress. Shenanigans of Baucus will push them further to have a low opinion about Senate. One cannot forget the large constituency of strong Liberal voters on Obama side who have been expecting Congress to act. Having turned all those folks for nothing will be no good here.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 7, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Hatch. I wish more attention was being paid to the fact that until the 23rd Hatch was on the Baucus 'committee' making it actually originally a Gang of Seven of whom four were Republicans. The reporting makes this sound like some sort of delegated operation split evenly among the two parties along the lines of your typical bi-partisan committee/commission. Instead Baucus seems to have invited four Republicans plus budget hawk Conrad plus for whatever reason Bingaman to craft something, anything to counteract Kennedy/Dodd's HELP Bill.

This was never an attempt to find a compromise instead from the beginning it was an attempt to craft a counterweight. Which is okay I guess, let the center right have a voice. But this demand that the center-right alternative simply be the base for all further discussion is absurd. In a 60-40 Senate Baucus deliberately gathered a group split 3-4 the other way. That Hatch walked away giving the group its current spurious balance shouldn't allow us to lose sight of the fact that the weighting was consciously towards the right from the beginning, and considering where Baucus and Conrad sit on this still is.

This group was granted authority, they just seized it.

Posted by: BruceWebb | August 7, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Sigh.

Was NOT granted authority, they just seized it.
______________________

Which by the way illuminates Ezra's question. Enzi became a member because Baucus wanted someone to weight his counterweight farther to the Right to offset what he seems to have seen (and I guess correctly) as a Left tilt in the HELP bill. Baucus must know that when push comes to shove that the Kennedy backers are not going to simply roll over, all he can hope for is to pull the ultimate bill enough to the right that he doesn't get killed in conference.

Posted by: BruceWebb | August 7, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

You cannot use Reid and leadership in the same sentence unless the words "lack of" precede sentence. The same is true of Pelosi and leadership.

What is most lacking for the majority is strategic thinking, planning, and execution. Give the Republicans the same majorities and see what will happen. I am afraid we might soon find out.

What we have now is the ultimate form of statergery.

Posted by: jgrecco | August 7, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

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