The Senate Finance Committee this morning is beginning the process of marking up, or writing, its version of health care legislation, using the proposal by Chairman Max Baucus as a starting point. Originally, this was supposed to happen in mid-June when Democrats were hoping to pass a bill before August recess. But after word got out that the Congressional Budget Office would slap the initial proposal with a $1.6 trillion price tag, Baucus spent three months stripping down the cost of the bill in negotiations with five other members of the committeee, including three Republicans.
Given that it’s the first day of markup, Senators are making opening statements, before they formally start debating and voting on all of the ammendments. Earlier this morning, all eyes were on Olympia Snowe, the only remaining Republican at this point who could potentially vote for the bill. During her statement she argued that the legislation shouldn’t be rushed because they needed time to get it right, and expressed several concerns — over affordability, the high penalty for those who do not obtain insurance, and the overall cost of the legislation. The problem is that two of her positions are contradictory. The biggest cost in the health care bill is the subsidies provided to individuals to purchase insurance — if you want to increase the subsidies, then it means you’re advocating a more costly piece of legislation rather than a less costly one.
As the process moves forward, Baucus is in a tight spot. He needs to do more to win over liberals who are upset about the lack of a government plan and believe the subsidies are too weak, while wooing moderates who are concerned about the cost. In a New York Times interview, Baucus said that a potential compromise exists around the “trigger,” supported by Snowe, that would allow for the creation of a government plan if the new system doesn’t meet certain targets. Thus far, liberals have rejected that idea. Even if the Baucus bill emerges from committee, it still has to be patched together with the more liberal legislation that has already passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. The HELP bill is far more costly, has more generous subsidies and includes a government-run plan. And even if the two Senate committees reach an agreement and manage to get a bill through the Senate, it would still have to be combined with whatever comes out of the House. So, there’s still a long way to go. And as Jon Kyl noted during his remarks, it’s difficult for Senators to make concessions when they don’t know whether those agreements will be hornored further along in the process.