No sooner had Sen. Max Baucus introduced his health reform bill than the partisan rhetoric ramped right back up. The thing we’ve come to appreciate from the health reform push is that partisan politics are being played not only across the aisle, but even within the ranks of the Democratic majority.
On one issue, there is bipartisan consensus: taxing health insurers is an unpleasant idea to many in the Senate. The reason for concern? That insurance companies would simply build the tax into the price of their products, passing the costs on to their policyholders. That’s you and me if we’re lucky enough to have coverage. Here’s the problem I have, though. How do I know that I can trust Congress? Yes, I’d be very concerned about facing higher insurance costs. That seems like a step backwards. But is that the legitimate source of the opposition’s concern? Or, could it be that the taxes would be unfavorable to the insurance companies, and the insurance companies have thrown a lot of money at members of Congress to see to it that that doesn’t happen? I’m going to play it safe and say: It’s both. In fact, I wonder if there is any set of regulations that can be put in place that insurers would not find a way to get around in their continued pursuit of profits? Businesses–at least the successful ones–adapt and evolve to market conditions–government imposed or otherwise. Color me skeptical.
There’s also a lack of support for Baucus’ bill from some Democrats, such as Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who feels that the bill doesn’t do enough to make a difference for his West Virginia constituents who so desperately need help. In fact, he makes a very strong statement against the Baucus bill in an interview with Ezra Klein. And then there’s the displeasure with Baucus’ proposal from the likes of Paul Krugman and others.
All of this leaves The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn asking “Who likes the Baucus Bill?” His answer? Ron Brownstein and Mark McClellan. Neither of them are Congressmen, but they are influential persons with the ability to bend the ear of a senator or two. At last notice, there were a multitude of amendments being submitted. Of course, Cohn also reminds us not to pay too much attention to the Senate Finance Committee, and to remember that other committees have a role in health care reform.
But the really striking thing isn’t that there is so much animosity towards the Baucus bill. It’s that the Senate Democrats have a nickname for the legislation. They’re calling it “The White House Bill.” To the extent that that title is appropriate, it signals a huge problem–that the executive and the legislative branches of government are fundamentally at odds with each other within their own party. At the least, this will lead to an ugly mid-term election cycle. But in the worst-case scenario, such a divide, if it is not quickly overcome, could derail the entire reform process and do considerable damage to the Democratic party. Based on some comments from Sen. Ron Wyden, at least some in the Senate seem keenly aware of what’s at stake.