How the Senate Finance Committee Got Ron Wyden's Vote
If you'd asked me six months ago which Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee would prove the toughest vote on health-care reform, I'd have had a couple answers for you. Blanche Lincoln, maybe. Or Tom Carper. Or Kent Conrad.
I would not have said Ron Wyden.
But it was Wyden's support that eluded the Senate Finance Committee and the White House in the final days. The reasons were twofold: First, it's always easier to bargain with a dealmaker than a policy wonk. Wyden wanted something real, and maybe even a bit radical, added to the bill. He wanted not only all employers, but all individuals, given access to the exchanges. He wanted to give individuals the option to move beyond the employer-based system, but that wasn't very popular, given that preserving the employer-based system was among the central premises of health-care reform.
Second, he was mishandled. His amendment wasn't scored until the last minute, and then at 1 in the morning on the final night of the mark-up, Sen. Kent Conrad waved his blackberry in the air and told Wyden his amendment had never really been scored at all. It's a bit hard to say what happened there, but it looked, and felt, like a dirty trick to Wyden's camp.
Securing Wyden's support for the bill thus proved a bit trickier than was initially anticipated. Part of the deal emerged in today's hearing, when Baucus and Wyden read from a "colloquy" before the vote. Never heard of a "colloquy?" You're not alone. It's a bit of an odd tradition: "a pre-scripted floor dialogue between the chairman of a committee and another congressman. The dialogue seeks to clarify the intent behind certain provisions for purposes of legislative history." Here's what Baucus and Wyden agreed to:
SENATOR WYDEN: As you know, Mr. chairman, I have long been working on fundamental health reform that would provide expanded choice to all Americans, including employees who have group coverage at their workplace. Today, almost half of the workers who are fortunate enough to have employer-sponsored health care don’t have any choice of health plans. I believe that providing workers choice – just like we have as members of Congress -- will both improve the quality of health plans and lower costs by encouraging health insurers to compete for consumers’ business. Choice and competition are fundamental to any comprehensive health reform.
I offered an amendment during the markup that would have ensured every American would be guaranteed a choice of health plans. Unfortunately, it was clear that my proposal would not have been approved by the committee, so I withdrew the amendment. Since then, our staffs have been working to come up with a workable choice proposal that will enable employees to shop for the coverage that most efficiently meets their needs and ensure that workers who are not offered affordable coverage by their employer would have the ability to shop for coverage in their local insurance exchange. It also would provide states with the opportunity to go even further in promoting choice and competition if they choose to provide their citizens with that option. I hope that you will join me in working to include this idea as health reform moves forward.
CHAIRMAN BAUCUS: Thank you, Senator Wyden, for your tireless work over the past years in health reform and, most of all, promoting choice for American workers and their families. I too believe in choice, and I believe the most recent version of your proposal could help achieve our mutual goals of ensuring affordable coverage for all Americans and injecting competition into the health-care system. We need to be sure that the proposal achieves our goals without unexpected consequences, but I believe it is a promising approach that could be included in the health reform bill that the Senate takes up. I look forward to working with you on this proposal.
The agreement that's pointing towards is this: Baucus and Wyden are, in theory, working together to get a compromise version of Wyden's amendment into the merged bill that will come out of the HELP/Finance negotiations. The details of that amendment aren't nailed down yet, but Baucus's cooperation, at least for the purposes of the Congressional Record, is.
For more from Wyden, check out Jon Cohn's interview.
Photo credit: By Alex Brandon — Associated Press
October 13, 2009; 4:20 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
Save & Share: Previous: The End of Unipolarity
Next: Will Joe Lieberman Vote Against Health-Care Reform?
Posted by: Rhoda | October 13, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wisewon | October 13, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GhaleonEB | October 13, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: HalHorvath | October 13, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: visionbrkr | October 13, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lwebb121 | October 13, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lwebb121 | October 13, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thebobbob | October 13, 2009 5:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: votingrevolution | October 13, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Woodstocknative | October 13, 2009 5:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: abbydelabbey | October 13, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: kare1 | October 13, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: walkerbert | October 13, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bmull | October 13, 2009 10:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JohnQuimby | October 14, 2009 1:09 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jskdn | October 14, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.