After Criticisms, Baucus Expects Big Changes To Health Bill
The Senate Finance Committee is meeting beginning today to consider chairman Max Baucus' health proposal and is very likely to make substantial changes.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., worked Monday to secure support from his Democratic colleagues on the panel before taking his latest health reform proposal into mark-up on Tuesday, Roll Call reports. He's making adjustments to relieve their concerns about whether the proposal would be affordable to low- to moderate-income families, and those Democrats appear to be warming to the plan (Drucker, 9/22).
The New York Times: "... Baucus said Monday that he would modify his health care bill to provide more generous assistance to moderate-income Americans, to help them buy insurance. In addition, Mr. Baucus said he would make changes to reduce the impact of a proposed tax on high-end health insurance policies. ... 'Affordability that, I think is the primary concern,' Mr. Baucus said. 'We want to make sure that if Americans have to buy insurance, it's affordable.' Mr. Baucus said he believed that the changes would 'help smooth the way for passage' of the bill through the Finance Committee, where it has been criticized from both the left and the right" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 9/21).
Los Angeles Times: "As a scaled-back alternative, the now $774-billion finance committee bill is probably the best hope for getting a healthcare overhaul through the Senate."
The Times reports that the focus will be on keeping the final price tag below $900 billion -- a target considered crucial to winning over moderate Democratic votes." The current estimates include "budgetary sleights-of-hand designed primarily to serve political ends." For instance, Baucus predicts Medicare cuts will pay for portions of the overhaul. Congress has reliably blocked such cuts, and doing so again would mean $200 billion in additional spending (Oliphant and Geiger, 9/22).
Bloomberg: The specifics are: Proposed changes would increase affordability for low- to moderate-income people by raising the eligibility for subsidies from 300 percent to 400 percent of the poverty line; lowering the portion of income a family must spend on insurance before getting subsidies, which at the top bracket is now 13 percent; and reducing by half the $3,800 penalty for not carrying insurance (Litvan, 9/22).
The Washington Post: "All of his changes, though, would add billions to the cost of a bill whose chief accomplishment was its relative austerity." He is considering cutting penalties for people who don't have insurance, limiting the tax on high cost insurance policies, and adding more subsidies, all things that cost more money or reduce revenues (Murray and Montgomery, 9/22).
The Wall Street Journal: Democrats were resistant to the original plan, but after weekend meetings, Baucus said the changes would "garner broader support in the committee." Meanwhile, he has resisted moving to the left in hopes of attracting the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. "My whole approach is to try to find a balance here," he said (Hitt and Adamy, 9/22).
Associated Press: "Snowe's support could become even more critical presuming health overhaul legislation makes it to the Senate floor, as Democrats look for the 60 votes needed to advance the bill." Snowe had raised concerns similar to those thumped by Democrats, such as whether the plan is affordable for middle class people (Werner, 9/21).
Politico: And, now that the proposal is in the open, "senators are beginning to show their hands." Although liberals and conservatives are both heartened by certain aspects of the plan, considerable disagreement remains. For instance, liberals want to extend subsidies to buy insurance to people at higher income levels, while Sen. Charles Grassley, D-Iowa, wants to cap them at 3 times the federal poverty line (Brown, 9/22).
Roll Call: With so much focus on Baucus' committee, House Democrats prepared to "use the breathing room to resolve outstanding issues holding up their own reform push," such as the public option. But, the House lawmakers are also waiting to see how other aspects of the Finance debate unfold this week. For instance, one conservative Blue Dog Democrat is sitting on a proposal for a co-op to replace the public plan in the House until after the Senate panel debates the topic (Newmyer, 9/22).
Related: The Senate Finance Committee today released chairman Max Baucus' opening statement.This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.