Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weird Senate Finance Bills Are Okay

Rumors are that the Senate Finance Committee is leaving out the public option, but putting in cost control measures that we won't see elsewhere. It's definitely not the kind of final health care bill we want, but as a report from our most problematic committee, it doesn't look too bad to me. Obama's strategy seems to be: get a weird-looking bill out of Finance, get 60 votes on the Senate floor for something mediocre, get a strong bill out of the House, have Obama deploy all his legislative muscle and political capital in conference committee to make things look like the strong House bill, and take advantage of the restrictions on blocking a conference report to push a superior House-flavored final bill through the Senate. Sounds good.

If Obama really is positioned to strengthen legislation in conference, and if you trust him to be a positive influence on legislation, it seems that a high degree of variance in what the committees produce actually helps us. We'd rather have a really strong House bill and a really weak product coming out of Finance that takes us to a mediocre Senate bill than two bills in the middle. Variance gives Obama more varied materials from which to assemble a really good final product. For example, I've been convinced by the arguments for a high cap on the employer benefits tax deduction. Maybe that will be our concession to Finance, in exchange for which they have to go along with a strong public option and generous Medicaid expansion.
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