The 900 Billion-Dollar Man
It'll be hard to say anything definitive on the Baucus proposal before we can see all the details. At the moment, Politico has the clearest rundown of what people think they know is in the plan. But in advance of the president's speech on Wednesday, we do seem to know Baucus's most crucial contribution to the debate: the number $900 billion.
That's the ballpark estimate for the Baucus bill, and though it's less than one might hope, it's a lot more than many were beginning to fear. The combination of sinking poll numbers, emboldened Republicans and anxious centrist Democrats had gotten some on the Hill -- and, more to the point, in the administration -- talking about a substantial retrenchment on health-care reform. The number I'd begun to hear was $700 billion. And you can't do real health-care reform for $700 billion.
There were two scenarios for $700 billion bill. The first was that Baucus managed to get Republican support for a more incremental measure and chose to run with it. The second was that the White House decided sure passage for something modest was a better bet than uncertain passage of something more comprehensive.
With Baucus coming in around $900 billion, both of those scenarios are short-circuited. The range of possibilities is now between the $900-or-so billion envisioned by Baucus and the $1.1 trillion envisioned by the House plan. That cements a consensus in advance of the president's speech laying out the White House's plan: Obama, after all, can hardly emerge with a stingier proposal than Baucus has offered.
That said, $900 billion is still less money than you really want for this plan. Something around $1.2 trillion is a better bet for doing this right. The difference there is a pretty manageable $30 billion a year. The hope is that Baucus's bill looks better after it's amended by the other Democrats on the Finance Committee, merged with the more generous HELP Committee bill, and then tweaked on the Senate floor by the Democrats left out of both processes. But the fact that we're talking about $900 billion as opposed to $700 billion means we're in a much better place than we could have been.
Photo credit: Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post.
September 8, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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