Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Study in Foregone Conclusions

Both sides on the Senate Finance Committee shredded the healthcare bill presented by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), a member of the panel and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, called the measure “a stunning assault on liberty” that would lead to higher taxes and less consumer choice.

But Baucus (D-Mont.) defended his work and urged his colleagues to “do our part to make quality, affordable health care available to all Americans.”

“Our actions here this week will determine whether we are courageous and skillful enough to seize the opportunity to change things for the better,” he said in his opening statement.

Republicans outlined specific provisions they will seek to change or eliminate as the committee debates hundreds of amendments, a discussion that could stretch into next week. One target-rich area: the more than $500 billion in Medicare changes that the bill proposes, to squeeze waste from the insurance program for seniors. Another is the fine that the measure would impose on Americans who do not buy health insurance, which the GOP describes as a tax on the middle class. And they warn that the legislation’s hefty new industry fees would be passed on to consumers.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, said they would press to further reduce costs for the millions of Americans who would be required to buy coverage.

Here’s a news flash for Sen. Baucus: no matter what he produced in his bill, even if it included free healthcare for everyone in America and paid for it through lower taxes and had it delivered with candy and a stripper, there would have been complaints about it: “I wanted dark chocolate and all I got were M&M’s.”

The reasons are pretty simple and obvious: an awful lot of senators on both sides of the aisle get an awful lot of campaign money from those folks involved in the healthcare industry: insurance, medical equipment, drugs, or the unions who represent the people who work in the hospitals or the companies that make the equipment or drugs. Healthcare reform represents a big change to their way of life, and even if it means that they could be better off with universal care — requiring everyone to carry insurance broadens the market — they like the status quo just as it is because it means they don’t have to work to figure out how to make more money.

And then there’s the political factor. Passing comprehensive healthcare reform that works efficiently would be a huge win for the Democrats and President Obama. They would be able to campaign on it for the next two cycles and run commercials against every Republican who voted No, painting them as the party beholden to the lobbyists and the heartless corporations. The Republicans were never going to let that happen, even if it meant that the current system crashed and burned. After all, they do have their priorities.