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.
"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."
All quite true.
But the "ifs" there are why I wouldn't support the guy in the primaries.
I've thought for the past week and a half that Baucus was acting as an agent of the WH. We'll know in a couple of months what the strategy has gotten us.
As a semi-wise man once said, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
I don't get the Baucus-as-Obama-agent theory... why would he take forever and delay things well beyond Obama's deadline? That throws a whole bunch of uncertainty into the process.
"I don't get the Baucus-as-Obama-agent theory... why would he take forever and delay things well beyond Obama's deadline?"
Well, as previously stated, Baucus has a perfect poker face, and it's next to impossible to read his actual motivations. So I could well be wrong about much of this, but I don't think I am...
1) Baucus is helping Obama walk back his campaign demagoguery against taxing healthcare benefits.
2) The WH wants GOP votes for healthcare for numerous reasons, a couple of which are potentially sensible, and more of which are just insanely stupid. Baucus is the instrument of actually fishing out some GOP votes, and we're watching the slow process of fish catching playing out right now.
3) Baucus is the designated flak-catcher to deflect anger from the left away from Obama. This helps the WH and causes no damage to Baucus.
There have been numerous shadow hints that Baucus is working with the WH over the past few weeks. The particular language with which Baucus criticized Obama a couple of weeks back is one hint. The difference in the way the WH put public pressure on DeMint, but has ignored Grassley and Baucus is another hint. The unwillingness to pressure the House to pass a bill pre-recess is yet another hint.
The WH (like Baucus) is not showing its hole cards or its strategy, so it's impossible to evaluate what they're really planning for the endgame. Maybe they're treating the Finance Committee like a charade, and as soon as they get out of committee, they'll play things correctly. But maybe not - I really do think the WH has a disastrously misguided desire to not pass healthcare on a party line vote, which is massively bad strategy both in terms of the legislation and in terms of the politics of future elections. In either case, I do think the likelihood is high that the WH is on the same team as Baucus right now.
(Baucus's press availabilities on C-SPAN have been amazing of late. He says absolutely nothing, but his smile is totally off the charts. Whether my reading of him being an agent of the WH is correct or not, one thing I know for damn sure is that Max is having the time of his life right now. Dude is a cat that swallowed the canary whole.)
I think (1) could be right, but I read it less as an explicit agreement between Obama and Baucus and more as two people who find themselves pointed in the same direction.
On the other hand, Obama needs to pass something substantial, and delay increases the risk of the disaster scenario where that doesn't happen.
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