I can’t say that I see the Senate’s inability to get a health care bill to the floor before the August recess as a positive sign. But I don’t think it is necessarily a big problem, either. I have known for two years that the biggest obstacle to passing a health care reform bill was going to be Max Baucus and his Senate Finance Committee.
On June 17, 2008, I wrote this:
The key to any medical reform in this country runs right through Max Baucus’s Finance Committee and the Senate Republican’s filibuster. The Finance Committee is one of the elite committees in the Senate. No one from the Class of ’06 has yet earned a seat on the committee. The most junior member is Ken Salazar of Colorado, who is hardly a liberal. I’ve long despaired at the makeup of the Finance Committee because it is so conservative that I assume it will never consider a truly universal system of health care. Even if we elect 10 or more new senators this fall, it’s unlikely that any of them will win a seat on Finance until at least two years later.
And what I foresaw is exactly what has come to pass. The Senate health care bill is going to be written by the Finance Committee and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which is better known as the HELP committee. Out of the thirteen Democrats on the HELP committee, six (Sanders, Brown, Casey, Hagan, Merkley, and
Franken) have been elected in the last two cycles. The Finance Committee accepted two new members for this Congress (Tom Carper of Delaware and DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez) both of whom came into the Senate prior to the anti-Bush backlash of 2006.
It’s not too surprising, then, that the HELP committee felt they had a mandate from the voters who put both them and Obama in power. They passed a bill through their committee on a strict party-line vote and they didn’t waste a lot of time trying to attract Republican support. The Finance Committee, on the other hand, is made up of a lot of old bulls who fancy themselves moneyboys. You’ve got Standard Oil scion Jay Rockefeller and Heinz ketchup heir-toy John Kerry, and Blanche Wal*Mart Lincoln sitting on that committee, and they think it’s their job to keep taxes low on multibillionaires. So, the Finance Committee can’t agree on how to finance the Health Care bill and they’re holding everything up. But, you know what? It’s okay. We’ve got a similar problem with the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House. There are enough Blue Dog Democrats on that committee to hold up chairman Waxman’s bill.
Let these clowns have the month of August to get a little schooling in the New Media. I welcome their efforts to wring more cost savings out of the plan. Let them work on that. But I don’t think that Obama is going to lose this battle. I have one piece of advice though. Do not ask the House to vote on a bill that raises taxes before the recess when the Senate is taking a pass. It is stupid to ask vulnerable House members to cast painful votes that might not mean anything because the Senate refuses to vote the same way. It’s not stupid because there is something wrong with being principled. It’s stupid because you’ll get the bare minimum of votes, and that will make the job of selling the Senate version much harder.
If the Senate waits, the House should wait, too.